8.30.2013

Sony pulls an interesting "end run" on the industry. Our perceptions versus the market reality.

Sony's category killer.

You could by a Canon G16 for your bang around, all purpose beater camera. You'd get a nicely built little brick with a smaller than average imaging sensor, a claustrophobic .85% optical finder and a pretty decent non-removeable lens. You'll spend about $600. Or you can see what Sony just tossed into the ring. Looks like they took the brilliant APS-C sensor from the a58 (great color, nice DR and lots of resolution), put it in a body with hand hold ability, dropped in a useable (not spectacular, judging by the specs) EVF and finished it off with a Nex lens mount and a decent (but not exceptional), small and light 18-55mm kit lens that also has a very decent optical image stabilizer. Just for grins they added a good movie mode and then priced the whole package at about 2/3rds the cost of the Canon.

No, I don't think the Sony a3000 is waterproof or able to fire at 12 fps or able to lock onto fast moving soccer players in low light. But I do think it will provide a big step up in image quality for a huge number of consumers who would have been targets for point and shoot cameras or who may have defaulted to cellphone cameras. And for a legion of students and people with limited  budgets who are just starting out it gives good access to a sensor that should be competitive with the sensors in APS-C Canons and Nikons. If all that really matters is the imaging quality of the sensor and access to decent lenses then this camera is an entry level no-brainer.

I read, with no little amusement, a sampling of the hundreds and hundreds of baffled comments on one of the forae that predicted this camera would cause a Sony "face plant." That no rational human would want to buy a camera that didn't have state of the art screens or throughput. I laughed when they suggested that no reasonable photographer would want one as I placed my pre-order on Amazon. Who wouldn't want a functional (and potentially great image producer) that is also a beater and available new at such a low price point that one could, in some situations, consider the camera an "expendable?"

To make a tired car analogy: Yes, we mostly all would love to drive "aspirational" cars like M-series BMW's and turbo-charged Audi's. Yes, we'd all love to drive fast all day on the AutoBahn. Ahhh, the smell of rich Corinthian leather.....

Well, I don't know about you but I've got a Toyota Corolla and a Honda CRV parked out in front of my house and they are functional and dependable everyday users. And I think that's what Sony had in mind here.

You may not remember when the SLR market matured in the old days of film but if you didn't need the special build or features of a Nikon F3 or Canon EOS-1 you could always buy an economy DLSR with fewer features for a fraction of the cost of the big boys. Given that you could use the same lenses and the same film, the image quality differences straight through were nil. We have now hit back to that same paradigm where a camera maker gives you the option of having a great sensor and a lens mount that can be used with lots of lenses at a price even a student can afford.

The scary thing for camera enthusiasts is that when you equalize the quality of the imaging chain and offer that quality at a tiny price point the difference between a bright eyed, poor student's photo and the well equipped hobbyist's photo is now reduced to the quality of the idea and the polish of the execution.
It's always humbling when someone can make really nice art with tools that cost a itsy-bitsy bit more than that Billingham camera bag you bought......

Sony may have a tremendous holiday hit on their hands. What's not to like for the vast majority of intended users?

Don't like it? Don't buy it. Take a look at the Leica Vario X instead...


42 comments:

PStuart said...

I can imagine what an A5000 or A7000 would look like and would consider buying them. But how does Sony differentiate from the A58/A77 if it goes down that road other than the smaller lens selection?

Bill Beebe said...

That's the key to this. The thousand series is the replacement lines for the low-to-mid-range A-mount DSLRs. I can easily see α3xxx and α5xxx E-mount cameras replacing α3x and α5x A-mount cameras. Smaller, lighter, cheaper. In fact, I could see the entire APS-C shifting to E-mount, with A-mount the domain of 135mm (a.k.a. "full frame" *bleck*) DSLRs, such as α8x and α9x cameras.

Sony now has a powerful tool-box approach to building cameras (sensor, mount, EVF, etc) where they can mix and match whatever parts you need in whatever formfactor body you need, at just about any price point. It's going to be interesting.

Oh. And I do remember low cost cameras for students (I was one once), such as the Minolta SRT-101 and later the Pentax K1000. The K1000 was an historically significant 35mm film camera that came to sell over three million units around the world. The mounts and film remained the same across all the bodies, leaving it up to the person behind the eyepiece.

Brad Calkins said...

It is a brilliant move! The only thing they missed on in my mind was the auto switch from evf to lcd, given the target audience...

Carlo Santin said...

This makes for a great back-up camera for an existing Sony shooter, or as a great first camera for someone on a limited budget, that youngster in the family who is interested in photography. The collective outcry of the fora might be the result of people realizing their $1500 purchase is no longer going to get them better results than the fellow who spent only a third of that. In the past, image quality was always dependent upon $$$...spend more, get more image quality. Sony has wiped away that reality, or at least started to. You might look like a slick dick with your Fuji X Pro 1, but you won't be taking "better" pictures than the guy beside you with this camera. Sony needs to add a few more affordable lenses and they should do quiet well with this approach.

Mark Matheny said...

I'm ready for one. A small "street" camera that, with an adapter, I can use with all my Minolta and Sony lenses. Having my A55 and Minolta 24mm f2.8 taken last year in a smash and grab, I'm missing the convenient size of that combination. I'm quite happy with the A77 and Sony Carl Zeiss 24mm f2 replacement combo, but it is in no way a low profile combination.

Phil Service said...

The A3000 is a disrupter, as are the NEX cameras, and as are any interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras with EVF. What is being disrupted are "true" SLRs (i.e., cameras with mirrors and OVFs). What would be even more disruptive (than the A3000) would be on-chip PDAF. Kirk, you've been extolling the virtues of EVFs for some time, now, and your recent post about Samsung is in much the same vein -- ILMCs with large sensors, good EVFs and fast AF are the future. I applaud Sony for being willing to disrupt itself (i.e., the A-mount SLTs), and I'm not in the least surprised that Samsung wants to be a disrupter of the dSLR market. It's the only way they can succeed at the high end. Canon and Nikon have the most to lose in this game, and appear to be the slowest to adapt. I think that the m4/3 ILMCs (Olympus, Panasonic) are less disruptive than the APS-C cameras from Sony and Samsung, because of the smaller m4/3 sensor. My only complaint about the A3000 is that Sony calls it, and markets it, as an SLR -- which it is not. But then that's making the disruptive intent more stealthy.

Joe Gilbert said...

One of my best surveillance cameras is a Sony HX100V and it uses a button in virtually the same location. It is a no brainer to use, and I strongly prefer it to some of my other cameras that switch automatically. Think about all the times you want to show or look at a photo on the LCD while in bright light and as you place your hand over the top of the screen (and viewfinder) the LCD turns off. I've read that on a hands on review, and can tell you from extensive personal experience that it is just another bumper sticker complaint. I would ask how many times a person has fooled with the same button to override the auto switching on other cameras.. I do several times a week. Also, shooting in bright light, I often cup my left hand over the EVF and doing so places my finger in perfect position operate the selector.

Michael Abell said...

Kirk,
I agree this is a no brainer for most of us looking for a backup utilizing our Nex lens. I never though I would find myself using a non OVF/EVF camera but I am loving my 5r with tilt screen. I envision using the A3000 for the 55-210 lens and putting the 18-55 on the 5r. I for one cannot wait until they start shipping.
Mike

Owen M. said...

Good post. Thanks for the Ricardo Montalban reference, it put a smile on my face. I wonder what percentage of your viewers picked up on that?

Anonymous said...

The a3000 is a victory of Form over Function. Someone at Sony has waved their magic wand and turned a NEX into a DSLR wannabe, that's almost as large as an a57. Will the non-enthusiast be impressed? We'll know know after Christmas.

Bruce Rubenstein said...

In North America and Europe SLRs sell better than mirrorless cameras. So, Sony dressed up a NEX as a SLR.

Excerpt from engadget: http://www.engadget.com/2013/08/27/sony-alpha-a3000/

Sony's managed to duplicate mid-range DSLR functionality in its NEX series of mirrorless cameras, but while experienced photographers recognize the value of such a device, amateurs looking to step up from a point-and-shoot often opt for a full-size DSLR. The reason, according to Sony reps, is that these users simply assume that a larger camera with a familiar design offers better image quality and performance. So, to suit these misinformed customers, Sony's created a mirrorless camera that looks like a DSLR, but offers the feature set -- and price tag -- of an entry-level compact ILC.

Craig Yuill said...

I won't be buying one of these A3000s for myself - I like my Nikon F-mount and Nikon 1 cameras and lenses just fine. But I could see my wife using one of these. One positive effect I hope the A3000's introduction has is that it will force Nikon to rethink its idiotic initially-high prices for its Nikon 1 cameras. I agree - the A3000 should be a game changer.

Robert Hudyma said...

Kirk:

Be careful of what you wish for: I see a Hasselblad H300,000 swathed in Corinthian leather. The perfect camera for your trip to Fantasy Island.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James McDaniel said...

If customers were as simple-minded as the Engadget article referenced by Bruce would suggest, then the Panasonic G and GH series of micro-4/3 cameras - which have been available since 2009 - would be dominating the mirrorless market share and already encroaching on Canon and Nikon's territory. They aren't. Don't get me wrong, these are all fine cameras (I loved my GH2 and especially the new GH3) but the three "breakout hits" of the micro-4/3 market have been (a) Panasonic GF1 which doesn't have the DSLR form factor (b) Panasonic GH2 which did, but was embraced by moviemakers for reasons completely unrelated to it's ergonomics and (c) Olympus OM-D E-M5 which doesn't have a DSLR form factor.

Gordon said...

The OMD E-M5 doesn't have a DSLR form factor? Really? Both mine look exactly like little DSLRs complete with fake little mirror box humps.

Gordon

James McDaniel said...

The OM-D E-M5 does indeed have a *film* SLR form factor, much like those of the Olympus OM or Canon AE1 film cameras. But in looks and ergonomics it is much more similar to an Olympus PEN digital camera + EVF hump than it is like any Nikon or Canon *Digital* SLR with their curved bodies, large handgrips and pop-up flashes. See for yourself - http://camerasize.com/compact/#459,289,7,ha,t

Anonymous said...

"the Panasonic G and GH series of micro-4/3 cameras - which have been available since 2009 - would be dominating the mirrorless market share and already encroaching on Canon and Nikon's territory. They aren't. "

Because of the price. They started with an MSRP 150% to 200% higher than the A3000's $400 is a truly disruptive price point for DSLRs.

The price on the Panasonic G5 dropped to $400 on Amazon and it became the top selling mirrorless camera.

So I think they'll sell a lot of these.

And put a lot of pressure on the more expensive APS-C DSLRs. The next round of "DSLRs" from Nikon, Canon, Pentax and Sony will all be mirrorless with a DSLR lens mount and an empty mirror box. If for no other reasons is that EVFs are good enough and they'll be cheaper to make. There will still be OVFs but only at the top of the range.

Imagine what happens when the A3000 appears in bricks and mortar stores for the non-afficianoadoes to play with it? FWIW, it looks like an SLR but it's smaller and lighter too. And for a lot of the population (50% of whom are women) that's an improvement over DSLRs too. That's another thing the male dominated fora can't see.

The rumors already hint at a future A5000 (?) with bigger, better EVF and in body IS (two rumors for this model that came from a Sony manual but didn't appear in the hardware -- I think they've confused bits of a manual)

Brad Calkins said...

My feeling on the a3000, is that the person who picks it up in a store is going to find it easier to use at the selling point. My mom and grandpa both bought dslrs and had no idea they could hit the button and use live view and shoot with the LCD until I showed them the button/switch. Not a deal breaker, I just think it would differentiate from the Dslrs that don't seamlessly switch between ovf and lcd. I own an omd, so plenty familiar with an auto eye sensor and button :)

Olaf Hoyer said...

We will see another shifting of the market these days. As stated beforehand, photography and its role in society has shifted throughout the last 30 years from:
- Something special that only wellpaid pros and some hobbyists practised
- even private photography with old days "point-and-shoot" film cameras was expensive
- with the availability of cheap digital Cameras Photography became rapidly more popular, because everyone could do it and produce mass amounts of digital stuff, most of it digital waste
- with the rising of Web 2.0, affordable Smartphones and their integrated Cameras now everyone does not talk about something, but instead simply pushes a button. Next button, present it to the world.

So: from some cherished art or at least craftsmanship photography has turned into some thing as present as water. Communication of whole parts of our present society is largely based onto the simple generation of information wrapped up in images an their easy distribution with some clicks. The less you have to care about effort an work to create them, the more uniform the whole output will be.
Something like rain- but once it turns into a monsoon that never stops, it is not only not helpful anymore as rain also has its function, but this monsoon destroys lots of things.

Also old paradigms get lost, and most important for us photographers, the cards get mixed again.
So, finally, we are again at levels like in old film days- a bigger body would give you only some advantages in special situations, like higher framerate in sports photography etc.- for non-moving objects the type of film and lens mattered- and how you were able to use them to "see" your subject or object in front of your lens.

Now, that finally pros and amateurs are technically nearly at a certain level again, the scene finally will clean itself. All those photographers from the old days, that only had made their business by owning that kind of expensive equipment that could differentiate from amateurs, will slowly die away, because technically an inexpensive Camera from any given amateur can do the same.
Differentiation will be reached in the future by:
- Working professionally. Deliver what you promised, and deliver in time
- social competence in tieing up all the loose ends of the project the customer needs to get through
- Vision. Artistic vision for all those photographers that work certain kind of portrait photography etc.
- postprocessing- generating some mood the customer likes. Also therefore defining some unique style that also is recognizeable
- Lighting. Of course- photography is about light...
- moving pictures. we see the same transit here from old oil paintings and watercolor to photography- the transit from film to digital was only a mere step over a wall- whats new is mobile stuff, and visual media in general being/becoming a significant part in everyday communication, and now, that moving pictures is technically affordable, available and cheap (most of it "free"- de facto not free, as someone has to pay for the infrastructure and bandwidth used) there will be a coming shift to this form.
As usable video is actually restricted by costs of storage and distribution (internet bandwidth etc.), there will be some time when social networks will be really swamped with big amounts of data, but its only a question of time.
Here, luckily, one has still to master a certain learning curve how to deliver great video snapshots, but technology will soon see to some of the issues arising here.

Latitudes Staff said...

Olaf- While I might not agree entirely with some of your finer points, I think your perspective is spot on.

Phil Service said...

I have come to the conclusion that Nikon priced and spec'd the Nikon 1 precisely to NOT disrupt its own dSLR market. The excellent on-chip PDAF of the V1/V2 foreshadows the end of the true SLR (moving mirror + OVF). So Nikon gave the Nikon 1 a small sensor, a high price, left off some obvious features such as exposure bracketing, added some feature eye-candy (best shot, etc.), and failed to market the camera to professionals and enthusiasts who could appreciate some of the cameras' unique capabilities.

As you point out, Nikon needs to re-think its strategy. I think they need to disrupt themselves. That is, they need to produce a large sensor, interchangeable lens, mirrorless camera, probably with a new lens mount. They can style it like an SLR and even call an SLR in their marketing, as Sony does the A3000. That will certainly kill their low priced dSLR business. But if they don't do it themselves, then Sony, or Samsung, or someone else will. I think that the A3000 is not quite the game changer than some folks are implying, primarily because it lacks on-chip PDAF. But it is clearly a shot across the bow of Nikon and Canon.

Biro said...

I think Sony is really onto something here. I already have a full Pentax DSLR kit and a micro four-thirds kit. But, at $399, I'm tempted to pick up an A3000 just for jollies. Maybe I'd add the Sigma 19mm and 30mm primes in E-mount for a compact, fun package that I don't have to worry about trashing. Plus, I'd have those Sigmas for the NEX-6 that I plan on eventually buying on closeout.

arg said...

Hang on -- the Lumix G5 is $399.99 with standard zoom stabilised lens at Amazon. Why isn't that changing the game, and breaking the rules? Sony isn't 'onto' anything at all, unless they are 'onto' following Panasonic around like a pet dog...

Phil Service said...

Well, it might be $400 now, but when introduced, I think it was about twice that, with the 14-42 lens. Also, the m4/3 format is not nearly as disruptive to dSLRs as is the APS-C sensor of the A3000.

Chris Malcolm said...

Sony is master of all the technologies required to disrupt the DSLR market. Plus they're not afraid to disrupt themselves. The technological details are still being developed. The sundry applause & grief from the various illiterate camera using tribesmen who don't read manuals but follow fashions will take time to settle down into easily visible market niches. The Sony R1 of 2005 suggested that Sony had both the skills & the vision & the courage to outflank Canon & Nikon in the coming revolution. A favourite saying from the disruptive wars of computer & software technologies was "When you're up to your ass in alligators it's hard to remember you came to drain the swamp." Looks to me as though Sony hasn't lost its nerve despite the alligators.

Vu Le, DDS said...

You have to factor the power of brand here. If Leica, Canon or Nikon put out the identical camera with their badge instead, it would fly off the shelves. Sony has a better retail distribution network than Olympus, Fuji, or Panasonic, but they are still considered second tier camera company by the masses.

You don't need to take a survey, just look at market share. We geeks like to talk about all sorts of esoteric, but most newbs I talk to grab the first Canon or Nikon they see on the shelf within their budget at Costco or Best Buy.

Canon and Nikon have the low end SLR market sewn up. The real reason Sony is putting this out at $400 is because price is the only way they can get attention at the low end. The cost savings of a mirrorless design allow them to get there. Sony has been putting out powerhouse after powerhouse--NEX5, NEX7, A99, RX100, RX1--and have largely been ignored.

V. Roma said...

I was one of those baffled people. Until I saw the price. Then it all made sense :)

Gingerbaker said...

I hope you enjoy your purchase, Kirk.:)

You are a braver man than I. When I saw the preview of this model, all I could think of was "Where are the control surfaces?" "Is there any way to separate focus from metering?"

Looking forward to your review.

Noons said...

The only thing missing from this to make it perfect is IBIS.
Had it had that, I'd have immediately sold my dslrs.

atmtx said...

LOL, and they will only charge $5000 for it.

John Krumm said...

Sounds like the DPR folks were less than impressed with build quality and features. But I think this is another try to see what sells by Sony (throw at wall approach). When you look at the Amazon sales charts it's usually the Canon dslr Rebels in various packages at the top, and I'm sure Sony wouldn't mind some of those sales, so they make a more traditional shape for a Nex camera and undercut the Panasonic G prices as well.

For a more experienced photographer, it's likely a decent "use the sensor, put up with the body" camera. Stick a good lens on it and have fun...

Biro said...

Start getting your DSLRs together and preparing them for sale, Noons. I strongly suspect you'll get what you want when the first direct replacements for Sony's SLT line come out later this year or early next year. These cameras will lose the pellicle mirror and become truly mirrorless, feature on-chip, phase-detection and/or hybrid autofocus, Sony's best APS-C sensors and higher-res EVFs and LCDs. They may be A-mount or E-mount and they won't cost $399.

Biro said...

"Stick a good lens on it and have fun." - Exactly.

Claire said...

I for one hate this camera. It offers exactly the worst of both worlds. Unnecessarily bulky (thick as an A37/58), extremely poor LCD screen (identical to A37's, in other words, useless), no auto switch from the (again, horrid) LCD to the (not so hot) EVF, limited and underwhelming native lenses selection, and worst of all, less than stellar AF speed. Make no mistake, Sony intends to lure entry level DSLR buyers by mimicking that form, but said buyers will also expect DSLR performance, including for AF speed, from this model. Anybody using NEX as their primary cameras (that would be me for the past 13 months, at an average 1K shots/month) will tell you none offer DSLR AF *whatsoever*. I see this as dishonest marketing on Sony's part. Which probably won't keep them from selling boatloads, lol.

Ron Zack said...

I think Kirk has this exactly right. Whether or not it takes sales from CaNikon entry-level DSLR's remains to be seen, but one thing for sure: I'd take this cheap Sony over any compact camera on the market. Maybe even over a NEX-6, no kidding. Just $400 with a kit zoom? What a deal!

Back in the days of SLR's, I quickly learned that 98% of image quality was due to the film in your camera, and the lens you had mounted...the camera only needed to be a light-proof black box with a shutter and a viewfinder. This Sony seems to be the epitome of that minimalist ideal: It has the new 20mp sensor (which is supposedly as good as the 16mp when it comes to low-light and DR), and it can easily mount all those juicy new Zeiss e-mount lenses. I wouldn't be surprised if it actually was able to take better photos than a NEX-7.

It has an EVF, an LCD, a shutter button, and a PSAM dial. The nice grip is something no NEX camera has. What more do you really need? Buy a cheap body with a good sensor, and save all that hard earned cash for what really counts: lenses. Makes perfect sense for me.

As for the EVF quality: the worst EVF is still better than the best LCD screen, any day, any time.

Anonymous said...

The G5 has been selling like hotcakes.

Anonymous said...

What you say is true - the 'dslr' market is very challenging and Sony faces an uphill battle.

That said, they really do have a chance to win more market share, and the A3000 is a serious signal that they intend to do so.

Ash Crill said...

How is this dishonest?

This camera is smaller, lighter and cheaper than a Sony DSLR...
...because it is not a DSLR.

Buyers are responsible for their own education and expectations.

Your use of 'horrid' and 'extremely poor' are not very appropriate as the LCD and EVF used in this camera are superior to many that were used in past cameras to create great images.

If you hate it then don't buy it.

Ash Crill said...

"the entire APS-C shifting to E-mount"

Maybe they will still keep one budget A dslr in the lineup?

It seems like a lot of product lines to juggle, especially with rumored new types of Sony cameras on the horizon..

Livino said...

Kirk, I'd love to see your take on the new Sony QX smartphone camera modules. Crazy stuff. Gotta say I'm intrigued.

Anonymous said...

Now that we've all calmed down, a bit; from the initial excitement of the game changing price, and we see clearly, how Canikon have been holding out, now let's agree, with Phil's excellent, and balanced view. Its cons are still there, even though, the out-of-the-gate price is much better. This is still not bear knuckle competition; but it is some competition. Not nearly as strong as some of you think. It's certainly not; that I expect a perfect camera. However, don't they know, faster focus AF-C tracking matters too? What about the, relatively weak, flash? Why so thick? Will the LCD's let you see all those 20Mpx, when your making adjustments in the field? Will that negatively effect manual focus, on adapted lenses? how much does the A mount adapter cost, and weigh, vs. new E lenses? Sony prime E lenses, are currently way over priced.