Date: 18/09/2014 | By: Heather
Photokina 2014: An interview with Sony Japan – Mirrorless innovation, new lenses, and more!
No sooner had we landed in Cologne and dropped our bags at the hotel did we rush off to the Sony booth at Photokina to hold the first of many interviews we have lined up for the week. Sony had arranged for us to meet three Sony managers from Japan, Yasuyuki Nagata, Yosuke Aoki and Yoshiyuki Nogami, who graciously took the time out of their busy schedule to answer all our questions in great detail.
Something we were extremely pleased to see was the genuine enthusiasm the managers have for the current and future full-frame and APS-C mirrorless line-up. Here we have a brand that really cares about bringing innovative solutions to the photography world through constant experimentation. In many ways, Sony may be the main brand that is pushing the envelope as far as it can go in terms of technological advancements.
Below we are happy to share the three Sony interviews with you. We hope they answer some of the questions you might have been asking yourself about the Sony mirrorless systems.
Interview with Yasuyuki Nagata (General Manager – Lens and Peripheral Business)
with Yann Salmon-Legagneur (Senior Marketing Manager – Personal Imaging & Sound Europe)
Mathieu: We saw the new lenses that were announced on September the 15th for the full-frame system, and we were surprised by the new 28mm f/2 and the two converters. Why choose a solution with one lens and two converters instead of having three different lenses?
Nagata: We want to expand the line-up. There are a lot of customers that really want to use a fish-eye type of lens but physically to build this kind of lens costs us a lot. So we studied the best solution for customers to balance both price and performance. That’s why we chose this type of compact wide and fisheye adapters. A 28mm is very useful for APS-C customers as well. Also some people already use compact wide or fisheye adapters additionally. So that is our concept.
Mathieu: Were the new lenses that were announced on the 15th planned from the beginning or did you change something after hearing customer feedback?
Nagata: Honestly speaking, when we launched the A7 and A7r, half of the lenses we announced yesterday hadn’t yet been decided. As for lenses like the f/1.4 prime or macro lens, they are required. It’s very difficult for us to make the E-mount lenses because customers really care about the size. On the other hand, they really care about performance, especially the sharpness in the corners.
Mathieu: We saw the new 35mm f/1.4 and it’s a very big lens…
Nagata: We don’t want to ignore performance. And on the other hand, we have another 35mm f/2.8 which is compact.
Mathieu: And that brings the next question. How challenging is it to keep lenses compact for a full-frame system? What are the challenges from a technical point of view?
Nagata: It’s a big issue. Customers request three things: performance (including sharp corners and no vignetting, distortion and chromatic aberration). They really care about size and weight. Certainly they really care about the price. It’s really difficult for us to create lenses by combining these three aspects. So every time we have to design a lens several times. We make a mock-up based on the first design, but if it cannot meet our requirements, we have to start from the first stage again. It happens every time.
Mathieu: How long does it take from the first design to the final design?
Nagata: One year to two years. For the easier ones, it takes around one year.
Mathieu: A question about the QX series. It’s quite a unique approach to “smartphonography”. What has been the reaction so far?
Nagata: At this moment so far, it has been very well accepted.
Heather: Is it more popular in Asia or in Europe? Where has it had more success?
Salmon-Legagneur: It’s popular in Europe. It was a very big success and now there is very good feedback about the QX1 and QX30 as well. They are targeting two very different groups with these two lenses. One is targeted at smartphone users, meaning the QX10 and QX30 of course, and the aim is to bring back customers who have left photography. The QX1 is actually more for an Alpha range customer who already owns lenses. And now of course the second step is to make mobile phone users aware of the interchangeable capability of the ILCE world and bring them to an Alpha camera.
Nagata: One feedback we had is that there are a lot of people who really want to use the QX lenses on its own. We thought most of the customers would use the QX type of camera with a smartphone but basically half or more customers use them on its own.
Mathieu: We’ve recently seen new sensors with higher mexapixels and of course there are always some rumours about new types of sensors. Are we close to seeing a new generation of sensors or will the sensors that are around right now last a long time?
Salmon-Legagneur: The announcement of the curved sensor has been made by different business groups but at this stage there is no product plan in the pipeline for a curved sensor. It’s maybe a long-term development so we can’t give you any more details .
Interview with Yosuke Aoki – Vice President (Digital Imaging Pan European Product Marketing)
Mathieu: Where is the Sony APS-C system most successful?
Aoki: It has been very successful worldwide. Yesterday Ishizuka* said that currently we have a 40% market share in the mirrorless segment. In most countries we are very successful and in Europe we are number one concerning the mirrorless market. In countries like Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong Sony is number one or number two, more than Canon or Nikon. We are most successful in those countries because their mirrorless ratio is much higher than in Europe. In Europe currently almost 24 or 25% but in Japan already more than 50% are mirrorless.
* Shigeki Ishizuka is Deputy President of Imaging Products and Solutions Sector and President of Digital Imaging Business Group
Mathieu: Recent cameras like the Sony a6000 are a very good example of how mirrorless cameras are closing the gap with DSLRs…
Aoki: No, no. Better than DSLRs! (laughing)
Mathieu: So, do you think mirrorless cameras are already surpassing DSLRs in overall performance, or are they very close to surpassing DSLRs?
Aoki: We have great hopes for our mirrorless development. Compared to optical technology (DSLR), mirrorless technology has much more potential. And for this kind of electronic technology, we have much more knowledge, skills and ideas.
Heather: So it is expected that they will surpass DSLRs at some point.
Aoki: Exactly. For example, last year, the European mirrorless ratio was 13 or 14% only, which is very low. That’s why I was a bit concerned. But after the A7 and A6000, the mirrorless ratio is rapidly growing. So I concluded that this is dependent on the product. For instance, looking at the European market, the popular mirrorless products are always high-value cameras like the Fuji X-T1 or the Panasonic GH4 or the Olympus OM-D and our Alpha 7. All products are in the high-end segment. As for the lower segment, there isn’t good growth. Therefore we have to figure out how to stimulate the market, that’s really important. At Sony we intentionally want to keep challenging the market to stimulate it and change it.
Mathieu: Mirrorless cameras are growing but Sony also has a DSLT system. Is it possible that the two systems can still coexist or eventually the Sony mirrorless system will continue and the DSLT will stop?
Aoki: For the moment, we cannot see mirrorless technology overtaking the translucent sensor technology. Therefore, we want to keep developing both the A mount system and the E mount system. And in Europe, thanks to the Minolta heritage, many customers own Alpha lenses and these customers still want to use their lenses on current Alpha bodies. That’s why this summer we announced the Alpha 77 MK II and we strongly believe that its performance is very good.
Mathieu: One of the most interesting announcements we heard yesterday is about the digital imaging Pro support that’s coming to Europe. That’s very interesting for professionals who want to use mirrorless cameras for work. Are you planning to extend it to North and South America as well?
Aoki: My response is “within Europe” because out of Europe I have no responsibility in making such a comment. But at least in Europe we want to expand our professional support gradually. So far we have no experience and that’s why we will start from Germany. Then we want to get some practice and experience to understand exactly on Sony side what kind of support we need to make. The turning point was the Alpha 7. Many Canon and Nikon customers tried to use the Alpha 7 series. And to be honest, we already have a long history of professional support for cameramen who use our professional video and cinema cameras. We fully understand the importance and requirements of the professional cameraman. That’s why I’m confident about creating that kind of support for professional cameras.
Mathieu: Can you give us a sneak peek of what’s going to happen next year. Is there something exciting coming?
Aoki: You better visit SonyAlphaRumors for that! *laughs* I’m kidding of course. Today’s interview is only about the Alpha system, but we keep challenging the market with our Cybershot products and the entire digital imaging field as well. Our spirit keeps pushing us to challenge the market. That’s why we are developing unique products and unique features. We are not sure if our customers or the market will be excited, but at least we will challenge. Our uniqueness is not only the final devices but also the core devices like battery, processor, and lenses. Sony has all that kind of technology on the inside.
Interview with Yoshiyuki Nogami – (Senior General Manager – Marketing Division)
with David Edwards (Product PR Campaign Manager)
Mathieu: It has been almost one year since the release of the Sony A7/r. Did this new system have the success Sony had hoped for?
Nogami: From a reputation point of view, very much so. It really did more than we expected. From a business point of view, because of this price point, it is of course not the kind of product that sells to millions but it is on track. The Alpha 7 really changed the position of mirrorless in my understanding, because mirrorless has been thought of as kind of inferior to an SLR, but this Alpha 7 series changed people’s mindset. So that’s why from this point of view, the Alpha 7 series is a big success for us.
Mathieu: An interesting aspect about the A7, A7r and A7s is that the bodies are identical and what changes is the sensor size. Do you plan to produce a successor to the cameras that are already on the market, or will the new cameras continue to complement the cameras that are already on the market?
David: I guess the answer in part is that one of the objectives of the Alpha 7 series was to get a full frame sensor into a small a body as possible, and that’s what we wanted to achieve, and that’s what we did achieve, and that got to a lot of people, which was great. Moving forward, it’s very difficult without saying about the new products in the future, but what we can say is that we are very happy with we’ve achieved.
Nogami: You know the famous story of the RX100. The RX100 was so compact. Then our CEO, Mr. Hirai, ordered engineers to improve the functionality in the same body. Then the MK II came out, and MK III, and it was a big challenge to incorporate the EVF in the same body but again Mr. Hirai ordered the engineering team to do the same, so I think this kind of a concept could be a theme in the future.
Mathieu: The Sony A7s has been praised for its video capabilities. Is it likely to see more video features in the next series of Alpha 7 cameras such as for example 4K internal recording?
Nogomi: We presented the 28-135mm video zoom lens yesterday, and this is really responding to the needs of the market because after the 5D MK II introduction, more and more DSLR users are using cameras for video purpose, so that’s why now there is such a segment for DSLR movie. It’s really catching on. If DSLR movie popularity continues, I think all manufacturers including Sony will try to address that market.
Mathieu: So, interest in mirrorless cameras from professional photographers has increased in the last year?
Nogami: Very much.
Mathieu: Mirrorless cameras are proving they can do very well in a professional environment. Take for example the a6000 and its autofocus capabilities. Do you think that mirrorless cameras are completely ready for professional use?
Nogami: Yes. But you know what, professional photographers normally use several cameras–one for one project, maybe two for another. So they are not throwing away one camera when they take a new one. Canon users and Nikon users started using the A7 as a second or third camera. And the good thing is that our cameras can use their lenses with an adapter. So this is the way the current situation has evolved so far. But still it’s not taking over the main camera position yet. When we introduced the RX1, we seeded the product to professionals and they loved the concept very much, and they are still using it as sort of a third or second camera. And Alpha 7 is more or less an RX1 with an interchangeable-lens.
Mathieu: Sony is known for a variety of electronic products that include smartphones, video games, audio equipment. How does Sony plan to increase its community of photographers, and how does the company plan to stand out as a photography brand?
Nogami: We have several strategies. First of all, when we took over the Alpha business from Konica Minolta, there were already some communities here and there. Some countries we took over nicely, some countries we didn’t take over so well. But today there are still Alpha communities there, so we try to give something to them, like the opportunity for them to exchange their views, and the opportunity to go group shooting and so forth. First of all, they give camera training to Alpha users or new cameras and so forth, and secondly they are creating online galleries where everyone can upload their images. So this is a kind of current attempt for now, and as announced yesterday, we will start the Pro Support program in Europe. But still of course we haven’t arrived at the level of Canon and Nikon’s established communities yet.
David: We’ve been working with the World Photography Organisation for the Sony World Photography Awards since 2008 now. The amount of entries that go into the World Photography Award grows year on year on year, and it gets bigger and bigger, and they’re a firm partner, and obviously they have a massive community of professional and enthusiast photographers. Now, in the Sony World Photography Awards last year, all the professional category winners received an Alpha 7r as well, so we’re seeing some of the entrants come back through as they repeat entry, and so it’s working with organisations like that, and Nogami-san he’s very central to our relationship with the WPA. We will continue to look at things like that in the future as well.
Nogami: Even in the Sony World Photography Award initiative, we have two segments to try and get young photographers on our side. One is Student Focus, and we also have some competition among photo schools.
David: The Student Focus competition is growing every year as well. Different universities enter around the world, ten students are shortlisted, they’re given a photography project, they’re given in this case an A7, and then the final ten are judged. Now the winner wins not only a series of photo equipment for themselves and the prize, they win 35/40,000 euros worth of photography equipment for their school or university. So, as you can imagine, this is quite an incentive, and it’s going really well. It’s given us that in into universities, and I had the honour last year of actually formally presenting the kit to the students in there, and they were so keen to get their hands on the products and get them out of the boxes. You could just sense they wanted to get their hands on, and they had so many questions. They’re so passionate. It was a very satisfying experience.
Nogami: The problem we have now is that we have to change the teachers’ camera sense, because teachers at photo schools are basically using Canon or Nikon. So even if a student has a Sony, they say “oh I don’t know how to use these, please refer to the instruction manual.” *laugh* This happened in Tokyo. But anyway, it’s okay, we try to relate to youngsters because I think we have a lot of innovations. I think we really have to go down even to high schools, because high school might even be too late.*laugh*
Mathieu: Yesterday, I went to see some reactions from people about the new lenses and there was a very positive reaction. They were all waiting for new lenses for the full-frame system.
David: The expansion of the lens system is absolutely crucial for us. To be successful we need to expand, and that’s what we announced yesterday and what we did. Nogami-san mentioned before that people who’ve got legacy lens systems are not going to abandon them straight away. Obviously an A7 is a very desirable camera, and people get very curious about it. They are buying an adapter and using different lenses from different manufacturers, and that gives us an in.
Mathieu and Heather: Thank you very much for your time.
The MirrorLessons team will be attending this year’s Photokina, where the products mentioned in this article will be on display to touch and try. To stay updated on our latest hands-on review articles, be sure to keep an eye on our sticky post and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram!