What I would like to see in Sony's new flagship camera...

I always liked the idea of the Sony a77 SLT camera. I became a convert to the cult of the electronic viewfinder when the Olympus EP2 hit the market along with the very good VF-2 electronic viewfinder accessory. When I first tested an a77 I was infatuated with their built in version of the EVF.  It's quite good.  I also like the Sony a77 menu, the button placement and the feel of the body.

It took a bit of time to get used to using the EVF all the time. Especially for action. But as I've used the camera I've gotten comfortable with it.  I'd say it takes a month of daily use before the camera system becomes as transparent as the traditional style of camera that we've become used to over years and years of use.

Some things could use improvement. I wish the EVF didn't get noisy in low light, like when I use the camera to make portraits and I'm using weak, 100 watt modeling lights in my big strobes.  And I wish the finder had absolutely zero time lag from frame to frame. I wish the files were less noisy at 3200 ISO.  But to my mind none of these things are "deal stoppers."  Not for a minute.  Because what the camera does well it does very well.

Above is a reduced size file from the a77 and its 16-50mm lens. I shot it at 100 ISO yesterday afternoon while I was looking around for a path to a railroad track bridge.  The sky looked cool and it was a quick shot.  Just a scribble in my visual notebook.  But I've looked at the shot two or three times today while sitting at my computer doing post processing and I've decided I like it.  A lot.

The a77 does most things very well.  The exposure straight out of camera (using autoexposure and matrix metering) is much more accurate much more of the time than my Canon 5Dmk2 ever was. Maybe it's the fact that I can correct it as I see the image come up for pre-chimping in the finder.  After a few months of using the camera those corrections have become subconscious.  They are now part of the flow.

I use the camera in manual and in aperture priority.  I know which wheels make which magic.

And now that I've come to understand the camera the files are getting better and better. I like shooting at ISO 50-200 because the files are very detailed and have a delicious dynamic range.  As good as any camera I've used and much better than most.  In fact, the performance at lower ISO's and the great EVF are the two things that have kept me from running out and buying an OMD EM-5 even though the gear maniac part of my brain is begging me to raid the cookie jar and just do it.

Lately I've been thinking just the opposite thoughts.  I've been wondering whether my admiration for the micro four thirds cameras was the result of my  brain being wired to take advantage of EVFs in a way that is different and more inspiring than working with regular OVF (optical view finders).  After working with my EP3 and some good lenses today, alongside my a77's I've almost convinced myself to slim down my m4:3 collection in order to get ready for the Sony flagship camera that's rumored to be announced right before PhotoKina in September.  For all the insanely literal readers: please note that I said, "ALMOST."

The reason is that the better EVF in the Sony makes making the images feel more direct.

So, here we are in late July and I'm thinking about what Sony might do.  Judging by my inside sources I'm pretty certain that Sony is on the cusp of introducing their next generation full frame camera.  When I spoke with a U.S. Sony employee in a position to know, earlier this Summer, he would only say that they were in final development and couldn't decide between a 36 megapixel sensor and a vastly improved (over the a900 and a850) 24 megapixel sensor.  He wouldn't or couldn't divulge anything else.

If Sony is listening here's what I want:

I want this camera to be a full frame camera.  I think we're going to get that. I don't have anything against the smaller format cameras but I do think there are optical differences that I like. Most people want a full frame camera to better use wide angle lenses but I don't think that's an issue here as there are very few good wide angle lenses in Sony's line up at the moment.  I want full frame to do portraits with the pretty little 85mm 2.8 lens which I've named "the wasp."  It's small and light but it packs a sting it's so sharp.  And I'm interested to see just how good the performance of the 70-200 might be on a new and improved body.

I would like for Sony to ignore the people who are opinionated about finders and basically say that we'll pry their fingers off the OVF cameras only after they've expired. I'm certain that if 95% of these people tried an EVF for a week they would never want to go back.  The information on the screen and the real time feedback loop is just too rich to ignore.  The camera should have a fixed mirror like the other SLT cameras. I want the EVF and you will too.  Maybe in this iteration we'll see an even faster refresh rate and higher screen resolution.  In a pinch I'll happily settle for the same EVF that's in the a77 over a traditional (no matter how awesome) optical viewfinder.

I can't stress this next point strongly enough. I want Sony to use the same NPH-500 battery they've used in the a900, a850, a77 and a65 cameras. A customer is much happier if they only have to stock one battery type and one charger type.  I have six.  I don't want to change again just for the pleasure of adding financial ingots to their coffers.  Some people feel they need more juice?  They should get a grip.  Sony should make one and put a big battery in it and sell it for a decent price to all those people who think they need to fire off 5000 shots in a row without taking a breath or changing the power source.

I read on a forum that some people are already angry with Sony over the rumor that the camera will have two SD slots and won't make use of either compact flash cards or XQD cards.  To this I say, "Bravo."  I personally like SD cards.  They are fast enough, very resilient and amazingly cheap these days.  I'll gladly exchange a faster write speed for ten times the storage....  Put me down as "Yes" for two SD cards as long as their use can be programmed.  I'd love to have the ability to do raw on one card and Jpegs on the other.  Or to do redundant back-up.  Or to put stills on one card and video on the other.  Finally, I'd like setting that allows me to put two cards in the slots and then start shooting to the first card and when it fills up to automatically switch to the second card without having to stop.

Hey Sony, if you are having problems deciding on a sensor here's what I think:  24 megapixels is just fine as long as they are "kick ass" megapixels.  Throttle back on pixel envy and give us a really clean imaging sensor at 24 that gives us richly detailed images with  high dynamic range at low ISOs while also giving us a really nice, really clean file all the way up to at least 6400.  I'm sure you guys can make a nice 36 meg sensor but I'm going to bet that a ultra-sweet 24 meg sensor makes more sense and gives you more generous engineering parameters within which to succeed.  As the pixels get smaller the detail seems to get crunchier.  I want detail that's more natural.

You guys are really, really good at making pro video cameras.  Can we please have three additions to the video basket of goodies in the new FF camera?  You have to ask?  Really?  Okay, here you go:  First, you need to let us have manual control of the microphone sound levels. We might ask for it and never use it but that's not your concern.  I really want to see the little graphical bars shoot over to one side of the meter when my actor coughs, burps or screams.  But seriously, I want to make sure my audio is recorded at the right levels.  We can rehearse and set it but we can't set it if you don't put it on the menu.  While you are at it would you please enable manual level controls on the a77 via firmware? I'm sure the capability is sleeping somewhere in the camera's guts...

Next I really want you to put in a headphone jack. I want to put on a pair of enclosed headphones and hear what I'm getting when I record audio with my video.  Better yet, I can run the headphones to the sound guy and he can listen for problems.  But if I don't get a headphone jack I'm right back to using an outboard mixer and that adds $400+ to the system purchase price and a major pain in the butt when it comes to the video production experience.

Finally, in the video arena, it would be really cool if you could output uncompressed or raw video via HDMI or a Thunderbolt connection.  Then we can buy a couple of these cameras and head out the door to make the movie from my novel before the book even comes out. This camera should make film makers cry tears of joy...

Save yourselves a bit of money.  You can make the camera out of polycarbonate over a metal frame. I don't need macho metal everywhere and neither does anyone else. As long as you can weather seal the beast lab tests will probably prove that metal transfers more shock to the inner guts than "plastic" and that plastic wears even better than metal.  Want to make Nikon and Canon pros cry? Consider making the outer shell out of carbon fiber.  Really.  It's the one material that men will choose over just about anything but titanium.  And most of them wouldn't know the difference in performance if it was writ large in 20 point type.  It would give you guys something to beat on in the advertising.

Steal a page from Nikon's book when it comes to lens compatibility.  Let us use our groovy/cool DT lenses on the body in a crop mode. I like that 16-50 a lot and I'd like to be able to use it across sensor sizes.  I promise I'll buy a real wide angle to put on the big camera but I'd like the system to be all terrain in a pinch.

Now, be real heros and price this thing at $2499 US.  Launch it the minute Photokina closes and start stocking them up now so that everyone on the short lists can get shooting in the first month after the announcement.

I know you guys think you can market like gangbusters but I have one last suggestion for you.  Take couple hundred of these cameras and put them in the hands of pros who are already shooting your a77 products.  An honest blog review with real world samples trumps everything you can put in an ad.  Really.  If you get people to use the camera and you have a place to share their experiences you'll quickly have a raging success or....you'll discover what you did totally wrong and stop the bleeding before it wreaks havoc on the rest of your product line.

Jet black.  Carbon fiber covered with sexy black rubber grippy stuff.  The envy of every cinematic  DP. Low Light champion (within reason).  If you want to make a dent in the market share barrel it's time to come out swinging with your "A" game.

And since we're talking marketing it's good to remember that having the right lenses for the job is a big part of the cache of a system.  You've got some big blanks that need filling and it's time to stop depending on Tamron and Sigma to pull the weight for you.  Here's what you need to announce along with the camera:

A 15mm Zeiss wide angle lens.  Make it perfect.  Now you own 15mm.  Next up you've got to have at least one tilt/shift lens.  Don't get crazy and go too wide until you have the 24mm focal length covered.  That's the sweet spot for discriminating architectural photographers.  Once you've got that one nailed it's time to also think about a 35mm tilt/shift.  It's a great focal length for a lot of stuff that requires perspective control.

How about giving us an updated 20mm prime?  If you want to turn heads let's make it an f2.0 and let's make it right.  We could also use a nice 200mm f2 for those interior sporty moments.

And if you want to make Olympus OMD users cry make the lens hoods really, really wonderful and put them in the boxes for free.

I made Ian at Precision Camera create an "a99" waiting list and put me on the top.  I'll buy one.  It's a whole new camera universe.  Carbon fiber.  That would be cool...

Sunday edit:  It's' coming quicker than we all thought.  According to actual people in the know the camera will be called the a99.  It will be announced next week. I missed the guess on sensors, it will be a 36 megapixel camera and it will most definitely be a fixed mirror SLT design.  Get this: 12 FPS in raw.  Sadly, no carbon fiber...  ISO 100-4,000 (rational thinking prevails..)

The price will either be $2799 US or 2999 US.  Just thought you'd want the update.


John Krumm said...

Sounds good, especially at that price. What really appeals to me is that Sony has in-body IS for their full frame cameras. I'm addicted to it. I love a slow photo walk where I don't always have to set up the tripod. Lots of decisions to be made this fall... I still enjoy the images I get from my E5, all the more with Lightroom 4, so if we see a rumored E7 (or something like it) with the OMD sensor that's another possibility, even with its 1/4 sized sensor. I suppose it an ideal world I'd have both, along with several other desirable cameras.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

And Olympus could steal my carbon fiber idea and that would be even better...

Unknown said...

Kirk, as a long time lurker on your blog, if it wasn't for you talking about the a77 I would have never even looked at one and subsequently bought it. I've had it less than a month and haven't used either of the other two cameras since. I'm in complete agreement about how incredible iso 50-400 photos are and, even coming from a K-5, the dynamic range is something I'm constantly amazed by. The button and menu layout is also really top notch.

I'm in complete agreement with what your suggesting and have only two things to add.

I shoot almost entirely in A mode, I'd like to set bounds for shutter speed (mostly minimum) and then bounds for iso too AND (like the K-5) tell it to slowly ramp up the iso only when it has to. The a77 in auto iso seems to want to ramp up the iso up very quickly. And why can't we set iso 50, 64 and 80 as the base on the auto iso mode?

Second, I want to be able to couple the spot focus to the focus point. I shoot a good amount of live performances and having the spot focus fixed to the center point seems a bit antiquated.

Oh, could I have a pancake 40mm lens too? (Have Pentax to make them for you.)

Unknown said...

If the Sony FF hits only part of your wants list, and performs in the range I hope it does (i.e. great DR and decent noise) I will be selling my Canon gear as fast as I can. I could care less about the 36 megapixels, 24 is fine by me.

Olympus has sold me on the EVF lock, stock and barrel

Vu Le, DDS said...

I've got my OM-D in transit, finally. I credit your blog for getting me started in m4/3 and mirrorless. I think it would take a sub-Leica priced full frame to supplant my larger Canon 7D. I think you are correct that Sony will make the first EVF full frame, though more likely as an Alpha SLT than a NEX mirrorless.

You still need OVF when the light gets really low. Astrophotography and night photography is unpleasant to impossible through an EVF...except for the full moon.

Vu Le, DDS said...

At the risk of being too technical, it would be great to have ALL video capable still cameras throw in 24, 25, 30, 50 and 60 fps. The OM-D's lack of 24p is probably the best reason to keep the GH2 around, and will be the main reason people will choose the GH3 when it comes out.

Daniel S. said...

So, is this your take on Charles O'Rear's infamous "Bliss"? ;) beautiful, in any case.

Anyways, cool ideas for the Sony A99---in fact, likely too cool to be true. Hope at least a few do make it into the final camera however, particularly the programmable dual SD slots; my Sony A390 has dual slots, and even though not only they're for different types of cards (SD and MS) but they have to be selected *manually*, I've found them to be incredibly useful with only a bit of self-discipline and patience.

Brad C said...

"make the lens hoods really, really wonderful and put them in the boxes for free"

Too funny :) I cringed the other day when I saw how much the hood for the 75mm Olympus lens was!

Michael Ferron said...

I have an A57 and it is a very nice machine for the money. Big dogs N&C really can't compete with it's features in this price range. Sony is a very innovative company. I most often keep my LCD turned in and use the viewfinder for review if need be. Try that with your flapping mirror camera.

Also I don't quite get the appeal of M4/3 for the money when you can get something like the A57 for the same and sometimes less $$. I do have a tiny little EPM1 and that's the point small sensor small camera.

j said...

Great post Kirk.
I am working on selling my Canon gear and will go all sony with the a99.
After getting used to the EVF on the NEX-7, I tried the 5D mark III and kept thinking there was something wrong with the exposure compensation, it took me a few minutes to realize that I was using an OVF and the EC didn't change my view at all :).

Sony really is innovating and the big boys should watch out.

Nigli said...

Kirk, This might not be aimed at the pro market, but how about a rear touch screen that lets you touch and identify your focus point? For all the landscape folks. Could be useful for product stuff too. My son (14 months) is well on the way to working out the android phone and the disappointment on his face when he couldn't do stuff on the LCD of my K5 was palpable. Though when he worked out where the shutter button was, off he went.

Libby said...

I fully agree with you on the tilt shift.All the guys who tell me I can easily correct it in Photoshop can go suck it. Luckily I have access to a Nikon T/S lens I can borrow, but it gets to be a pain sometimes. If they came in with a lens with a livable cost I would rethink things. Definitely.

Irenaeus said...

What gives? I wrote my deathless copy, selected my profile, hit Preview to double check and my comment disappeared! It'd be nice to not have to go through that again, Kirk....

Roughly, what I said was this:

Great ideas, I'd appreciate the weight reduction good plastics and carbon fiber ought to bring, would like to be astounded by a Sony marketing coup that didn't charge an arm and a leg for us to buy into that and offered some suggestions.

Namely, I'd like to see more aspect ratios available. I'd specifically like (and would almost require) 1:1, but other standard ratios
would be welcome. A user programmable custom ratio would really delight me, however, as I've wanted to frame and shoot in the Golden Ratio for years and would also like to experiment with the 2:1 and 3:1 ratios of Chinese landscape paintings.

I'd want as much of the sensor as possible to be activated in whatever ratio were chosen, but I'd also like a switch that would reduce the magnification within the viewfinder slightly, apply accurate bright line framing and show a bit of the scene that is outside those frames, thus bringing a bit of the classic rangefinder's advantages into the dslr world.

In the meantime, I'm holding onto my cash until we see what they'll REALLY have on offer!

Best to all,


Scott said...

Apparently the modern practice of charging ridiculous prices for non-included lens hoods (I'm looking at YOU, Fuji, Canon, Olympus) has spawned a whole niche industry of ebay hood marketers.

Seems they can make a profit producing and selling perfectly fine knock-offs for one-third to one half of the manufacturer's prices.

More power to 'em.

Ron Nabity said...


The comment about battery compatibility really hits home for me. Having to adopt another battery/charger is almost a showstopper. With my Canons, I have only two battery models that cover 5 camera bodies. Panasonic is one-to-one, a real pain.

I hope the Sony FF model has at least half of your wish list - and I really hope they follow your excellent marketing suggestion about putting some preview models into the hands of current Sony customers. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of this one.

FoToEdge said...

EVF... on my Olympus E-P3 and OM-D cameras have totally spoiled me.. I love seeing what effects are going on out in front of the lens... I bracket in .3 amounts and use 3 exposures... none over the camera meter normal and the 2 underexposures being -1/3 and -2/3 which always saves the highlights in bright sunshine. But when I find shade or clouds cover the light, I just turn my exposure comp dial 2 clicks to the right and I can see right in the wonderful EVF what the heck is happening.... I love the EVF as much as you and just will not consider anything less. I will keep an eye on the Sony lines.. but they remain a little too heavy for what I do. Hopefully Sony will bring us a very small simple EVF changeable lens machine with the APS sensor size and just about the size of the old Nikon FM2.. It can be plastic and low cost... but it needs the state of the art EVF that is in their Big Boy Cameras.

Brad C said...

I'm curious why you have an EMP1 but don't get the point of MFT? Why not a small NEX?

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

I've said it countless times, the EVF changes everything. It's the reason why m4:3 has taken off and it's the next thing for bigger cameras as well.

Keith I. said...

As an A900 and NEX-7 shooter I have been eagerly awaiting the new A99! The NEX-7, using the same EVF as the A77, has me totally hooked on the EVF. I have found myself trying to use the focus zoom more than once on my A900.

Unknown said...

Sony really needs to add you to their advertising/marketing staff, with some part-time work in the design department. You're pretty convincing. It's been disappointing to me to not see Canon keeping up. The new mirrorless EOS M misses by not having a built-in EVF or apparently any provision for one, unless I missed something. Funny how DPreview lists the specs as "rangefinder style mirrorless" - they should have said "rangefinder style without the rangefinder mirrorless". I guess those Canon people just aren't following your blog. They should.

Unknown said...

Oops, forgot to mention: as a result of your love of your Sony cameras I'll be considering moving to Sony instead of continuing to move up the Canon camera ladder.

Tesch said...

Carbon Fiber is an amazing idea!!!! I would love to see a version of this in weather sealed carbon.

Everything else is spot on but I kinda like a articulated liveview screen.

Unknown said...

Programmable aspect ratios...that would be magical.