Is Sony the most innovative camera manufacturer today?

In a recent interview, Sony said that they can change the world of DSLRs and that they are still committed to full frame DSLR cameras:

"When we announce a full-frame camera we want it to be a big step forward - another technological development might be needed so I say to people: Please stay tuned."

In another interview at CES, Sony's representative also set high expectations for the  A700 successor:

"We've been acutely aware of the concern for the arrival of the A700 successor - actually, quite acutely aware, and we're sorry that it's taken as long as it has -- but we believe that when this successor arrives, everyone will realize that it was very valuable to first develop the technologies and the capabilities that will go into the model, and to save it for those."

The Sony A700 replacement is expected to have translucent mirror, magnesium alloy body, new EVF, 24MP sensor and very high ISO capabilities. The camera will be released later this year, probably at CliQ. A prototype was already shown at CES:

Sony A700 successor prototype

Sony A700 successor prototype (credit: Photographybay)

Last week Sony announced a new 5-inch CLM-V55 monitor for DSLRs:

Sony CLM-V55 monitor

Sony CLM-V55 monitor

The latest rumor is that Zeiss will be developing new servo lenses with Alpha mount for the upcoming 3 sensor mirrorless camera. Sony is expected to release also two high-end point and shoot cameras and a new 500mm f/4 lens with new control buttons (15x image magnification is one of the new functions that will be added to this lens). Here is a prototype of the 50mm f/4 lens:

Sony 500mm f/4 lens prototype

Sony 500mm f/4 lens prototype

more Sony lens prototypes

more Sony lens prototypes

BCN ranking (from Japan) lists the Sony NEX-5 at the #2 spot for December 2010. Our own poll places the Sony NEX at the #4 spot (only 14 votes behind the #3 Pentax K-5). Popular Photography magazine made the Sony A55 the camera of the year (2010):

Sony plans also to double their sensor production in 2011 and recently patented translucent mirror for compact cameras.

All this makes me thinks that Sony is the busiest and most innovative camera manufacturer out there. Of course they have the cash and long traditions in the video camera market. I am still not convinced that on the high end products their IQ matches the offerings from Nikon and Canon, but with Zeiss on their side and full frame cameras in the pipeline we will have some interesting time in front of us.

Here is a quick poll - who do you think is the most innovative camera manufacturer today:

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  • Anon

    Sony is not an innovative camera maker, they are an inovative electronics maker. They don’t seem to get the picture (pun intended) but I don’t give a rat’s ass about “another technological development” being needed for Sony to keep up with sales. All I want is a camera that actually feels comfortable in my hands, something that is durable enough to be put through the elements, and that doesn’t fight me when I tell it what to do. So far, Sony has yet to deliver that. Instead they’re obsessing over pellicle mirror design, which Canon and Nikon both tried decades ago.

    • RD

      Sony is not an electronics maker, they are a design/marketing company that also sells electronics.

  • Some_Dude

    Yes Sony is.

    I mean it already started before the “translucent” cameras.
    – PDAF LiveView
    – FF sensors IS (what all others said is not possible)
    – tilt/swival flash

    But it’s not neccassily good.
    Alot of current A700 and A850/A900 users don’t like the idea of not getting a OVF camera.

    Sony realized they can’t gain marketshare fast with models similar to C&N.
    Minolta never could be more than 3. (even having the only good AF system for 2 years).
    So Sony just does it diffently now…

    back when Canon used pellicle, they had a bad viewfinder.
    Sony’s models now have a big bright VF (but not OVF …).
    And they have PDAF in Video and with that the most consumer friendly video solution in DSLR market.

    and btw handling is style
    But I don’t see what’s your problem is with Sony bodies.
    They handle great and not “now you can only use 1 of the 30 buttons for this function” canon type

  • gt

    I’m just happy that Sony’s innovations end up in Nikon cameras. go sony go!

    • Sky

      fix: Sony SENSOR innovations go to Nikon cameras.
      Whole the rest stays in Sony only.

      • Global

        Nikon is first in so many things lately, and considering its size compared to the huge conglomerates of Sony and Canon…. Nikon is the most innovative.

        Pound for pound, Nikon does more.

        • Just A Thought

          “Nikon is first in so many things lately”

          Care to list the “so many things” ????

          Would the Print to Nikon’s myPictureTown button be one of the top things lately?

          • Global

            – Best ISO performance (D3s),
            – Best performing 24mp (D3x),
            – First DSLR with video (D90),
            – Best DSLR with video (D7K),
            – First video DSLR with zoom controls,
            – Best 2010 entry-level camera (D31oo),
            – Best in class auto-focus across the board.

            For starters.

          • plug

            Nikon is first in the sense of quality and some new developments.

          • ok, let me add few more:
            – first DSLR with AF during video recording (D7000)
            – first p&s with built-in projector (we are talking about inovation here)
            – First p&s with built-in GPS – the old Nikon Coolpix P6000 (I am not sure, but I think it was the first one)

          • – Best ISO performance (D3s),
            – Best performing 24mp (D3x),
            – Best in class auto-focus across the board.

            These are not innovations, thats quality.

            Best 2010 entry level camera? (d3100)
            Best DSLR with video? (d7k)

            where is the innovation there? Other than the AF in video, you’re just saying they’re the best. So you’re reasoning is invalid to what you say is innovation.

            But with the d90, first in video I agree with you there but what DSLR is the first with zoom control?

            Admin is spot on with the innovation by Nikon though.

          • Global

            They are innovations, because its Engineering + Application.

            You can’t just say its best of quality. Best of quality is a gold coin that is shiny and polished. Innovation is making something new happen. Nikon has made new things happen. And they have pushed the limits. You think that those small patents come easy, but they don’t. A LOT of a work goes into making ISO better, making Dynamic Range better. And basically setting the standards.

            I don’t deny Sony & Canon their place — LOVE both of those companies. I am no fan boy.

            But I do believe that POUND-FOR-POUND, Nikon is the most innovative. They do not have the vast unlimited resources of Sony nor the huge divisions and engineering capabilities of Canon or Sony or Samsung, etc.

            Pound-for-pound Nikon is the most innovative.
            Thats RELATIVE.

            Absolutely………? I can’t tell. Sony is too new to be the most innovative. Their list is incredibly short.

            Canon and Nikon and fairly well tied in the world of DSLR as innovators in their industry (just based on length of history and constant unending engineering advances and patents and twists).

            Sony is not special, they are just interesting and we’ll be watching to see if they shine bright or squander their potential.

          • Worldwide

            I don’t see how best dslr for video and best entry level camera is innovative and what is the first dslr with zoom control.

            Pound for pound is boxing mate. Nikon doesn’t have a weight class. These are cameras we’re talking about.

          • Just A Thought

            Reply to Global:
            – Best ISO performance (D3s),
            – maybe for FX size but then it’s Thanks to the Sony sensor it uses. The newer Sony sensored DX bodies (from Pentax and Nikon) have better high ISO performance considering their smaller size – this year should see a sea change in this area.

            – Best performing 24mp (D3x),
            – Thanks to the Sony sensor it uses. The Canon 1DS performs in the same league albeit with fewer pixels for now

            – First DSLR with video (D90),
            – Sony made the sensor which made the video possible, Who designed the low res video processing, Jello and all?

            – Best DSLR with video (D7K),
            The Hot pixels were just an added feature to help make it the best?? The D90 replacement is a good camera. I suspect Canon users might have a comment or two on which body has the best video – may have to split into best DX video and best FX video.

            – First video DSLR with zoom controls,
            – could have one there – hang on, me thinks that RED had that capability

            – Best 2010 entry-level camera (D31oo),
            – If this is so, it would be Thanks Again to the Sony sensor which it uses. IMHO its a toss up between Sony, Pentax, Canon and Nikon at that end of the market. All except Canon use Sony’s sensor.

            – Best in class auto-focus across the board
            – nada – need a definition for best. May have more AF points, while other cameras focus just as well and as fast with fewer. Do ya thunk that maybe Sony also made the AF sensor for Nikon?

            The article was talking about Sony and it’s innovations. One would assume that any comments would also be about Sony and it’s innovations. Yes, Sony’s innovations have helped Nikon keep it’s head above water while swimming in same pond as Canon and actually may have saved Nikon. In the days of the 1D Mk2, Canon took in a lot of Nikon users. Thanks to Sony’s innovative sensors the tide of folks moving from Nikon to Canon has been stemmed – for now. The next generation is just weeks and months away – ya never know what surprises we might see.

            Wait till the economy picks up and Sony really starts plowing money into the Camera division. Thanks to Sony there is more competition which benefits us consumers. Without the competition the D1X would still be the top end Nikon with consumers being told that 6mp is more than enough. Why would you ever need more than 6mp? Remember those days???

          • Sky

            – Best ISO performance (D3s),
            – Best performing 24mp (D3x),
            – Best in class auto-focus across the board.
            These are quality features, not innovations. We get such “best” things every year, it doesn’t make them innovations, no more than putting bigger viewfinder does.

            – Best 2010 entry-level camera (D31oo),
            With that one I could argue

            – First DSLR with video (D90),
            Yep, that’s the only really innovative thing

            – Best DSLR with video (D7K),
            Nope, certainly not. There are two choices here: For generic indie-cinema it’s Canon 5D MkII – Full Frame video with great quality and very shallow DoF – beats D7000 in seconds, and for casual filming – Sony A55 with autofocus making all the other DSLRs look like a toys.

            – First video DSLR with zoom controls
            Nope, sorry.

            – first DSLR with AF during video recording (D7000)
            It was D3100, and (released few weeks later) A55/33.

            – first p&s with built-in projector (we are talking about inovation here)
            Yep, that’s true.

            – First p&s with built-in GPS – the old Nikon Coolpix P6000 (I am not sure, but I think it was the first one)
            True. Probably only good thing Nikon ever did in compact cameras.

  • Baku

    Not a Sony camera owner but I’ll give credit where credit is due.

    They are leading with their cameras and taking risky steps where other makers haven’t tried. Primarily due to Sony being a huge sensor maker. They were the first to mass-produce back-side illumination sensors, they have crazy highspeed sensors which they’ve been supplying to other makers, they have a high-dynamic range sensor in the F3 that also does true 4:4:4, and they are even planning a global-shutter CMOS sensor for video.

    None of those cameras are conceptually new, for instance, the pellicle mirror has been around for awhile, but they have never been used as a digital camera, completely rethinking the SLT in terms of phase-detection AF, but also removing the OVF as previous pellicle mirror cameras have before and being completely based on live-view. They are approaching dSLR differently than the classic mirror box design due to advancements of the sensor. The SLT would have been impossible before live-view camera technology was allowed to monitor an image to an EVF.

    Can’t wait to see what they have in store. The 3-CMOS Alpha camera rumor only is remotely plausible coming from Sony since the other makers are far too conservative to be making cameras like that.

    • I agree, I do not own any Sony cameras, but they are very agressive as a company. I will not be surprised if they become the #2 in few years. The question is who will go to #3, Nikon or Canon.

      • Nau

        not even planing to get one but they do try a lot of things (maybe one too many) but we need some one like this on a market so all the tech can later be perfected and adopted by proper camera brands

        • Global

          I like Sony, but their proprietary B.S. pisses me off. Their software, their memory formats. Consistently the worst and most complicated and limited of the lot. Only Apple has a worse reputation for this, but at least Apple’s software works.

          I don’t think it has helped them AT ALL in the American market, and not likely in the Japanese market either. Sony needs to make sure it uses widely-accepted and open technology. Sony acts very insecure far too often to the severe detriment of its image.

          If Sony increases its user friendliness, it could deserve to be in a top spot. But let’s not forget that Samsung — which is just as effective as Sony — failed in this department. Size and diversity of departments/divisions does not necessarily equate to success in this industry.

          If Sony learns from the Samsung mistakes they may, just may, succeed. Otherwise, I expect them to basically be another Pentax and Samsung, even worse if they don’t figure out the rules of simplicity and elegance rather than proprietary.

          Their non-traditional cameras may take off, but I expect Nikon and Canon to retain the 1 & 2 spots. I don’t see Nikon or Canon giving up to Sony any time soon, except in the non-traditional DSLR market, which Sony is starting to carve out in advance of the other two.

      • As a commenter said above, Sony is a very agressive electronics company. The only really relevant thing was the stabilization for full-frame; all the others are gimmicks, and some of them could end up as being frustrating; just imagine the succesor of A700 as having an EVF. It makes me cringe; one of the best usage models for that camera is birding, and in combination with the mirror 500mm f/8 is one of the most powerful (and light) autofocusing setups. And no matter how good an EVF could get, it would still be delayed.
        One more thing: let’s say that one would write a very laudative article about Porsches. And then the author would embed a poll about different auto makers. Care to predict which one would get 50% of the votes, right from the start? Sorry, but the relevance is non-existant.

        • Sky

          hahaha, yea, the poll is bit silly.

          just imagine the succesor of A700 as having an EVF” – it seems like a way it’s gonna be anyway, no matter if users like it or not. Life will show how good it’ll be, but the initial reaction always will be: WTF?!

        • Lawrence

          Gimmicks? The sensor technology is not gimmicks, a modern camera is electronics, the sensor has become the most crucial part of the camera.

          As far as the rumored A77, quite frankly camera capabilities are already moving well beyond what the mirror box can handle. The A55 is a sub-$1k camera and already does 10 fps. Which are speeds reserved for cameras in the hig-end D3/1D range for competitors.

          The A77 is rumored to be in the 12 fps range, maybe more, and cameras are currently outfitted with HD video. The fact is its become a hindrance to have the mirrorbox slapping up and down every frame, and being completely locked up during video.

          The SLT design insures that there is no mirror vibration during shots, that phase detection AF is available even in video, and you get full 100% live-view frame coverage (something that OVF in low-end cameras lack), not to mention better reliability due to less moving parts.

          BTW, I own a Canon 5DII and I voted for Sony above.

      • Worldwide

        IF Sony becomes number 2 I think Nikon will be 3rd cause Canon just has too much market share and in fact Nikon are already 3rd place in Taiwan. Although it’s just one country, it could be an indication of what may happen later

        • Sky

          Yep, I’d go for the same.

          Especially if you consider very good Canon experience with video, that’s becoming more and more important (sadly), something that Nikon lacks completely. So far they were doing quite well, but if you go more deeply in details you’ll be surprised by the gap between Canon and Nikon (eg. famous Nikon 4-minute recording time, which got improved just in the last camera, yet Canon got it made well almost since the beginning).

          Canon also has very nice strategy of spending less cash trying to R&D something themselves, yet more trying to improve competition solutions giving it very nice advantage in final result. Let’s face it – through the history Canon never been most innovative company. Olympus, Minolta, Nikon, now Sony, but never Canon. Yet they are the largest company…

          So I think it won’t change. Canon will float on top.

  • jeorcal

    for family and tourists yes it is for sure

  • alphaone

    “I am still not convinced that on the high end products their IQ matches the offerings from Nikon and Canon, but with Zeiss on their side and full frame cameras in the pipeline we will have some interesting time in front of us.”

    IQ ? the field tests will show us how nice the Sony Alpha does compare to the market leader Nikon and Canon.

  • ItsaChris

    I have always thought Olympus is/was the largest innovator in DSLRs. I think Oly was 1st in-
    sensor shift
    dust reduction
    Swivel LCD
    Live View & Live view with a usable through-the-lens viewfinder
    They got it right along time ago but did not leave room for growth in there system.
    But all the innovations are now tested and can be found on almost every DSLR out there.

    I dont think we can crown a new king of innovation yet. Sony has done very well lately and I love the NEX-3/5 but over all Sony has given us MS cards, auto fire smile detection and EVF. The EVF is the only true innovation and I dont think an EVF will last long, but an overlay system like fujis might.

    Nikon – if it is true that nikon is building carbon fiber D4 and there mirrorless system will have a built in OS of some kind with in camera raw editing (Like the P6000). a solution to the large EVF and a dust cover much like sigmas I think all the innovation sony has show to there 1st adapters (and green eyed monsters) will evaporate quickly

    And lets not forget the rumors coming from olympus. modular camera! That could be a game changer.

    • Sky

      Sensor shift was actually a Minolta invention. ;]

  • sgts

    I dont think we are really seeing much innovation here at all. All the new japanese dslrs this year will come out within a month of each other, with similar features. Call me cynical, but that doesnt look like innovation to me. A camera firm bringing out a reasonably priced yet near state of the art dslr as possible would blow canon, nikon and sony out of the water.

  • Zeusman

    They have finally figured out that if they just imitate Nikon and Canon, they will never be more than third best. So they are thinking outside the ‘box’ and coming up with some interesting gear. Someone mentioned above “for family and tourist”, that’s not a bad place to be. There are a whole lot more of those than pro shooters. But I think pro will adopt them as well in short time.

    Pros tend to resist and stay old school longer than consumers but eventually warm up to new technologies. I recall when Minolta came out with auto focus and how pros resisted and said that was for amateurs and now where are they…

    Sony has the structure to overtake Nikon and Canon. It will be interesting to see how Canon especially reacts to Sony’s aggressive strategies. I, for one, have been a long time Canon shooter and never thought I’d own a Sony but must say am enjoying my NEX 5 and looking forward to more high end glass for it. Say what you will about the lack of dials and controls on that camera but Sony had the balls to bring to market something that really is different and exciting. It’s great and has opened me up more from them.

    Go Sony!

  • Nobody Special

    Whether the tech’ is groundbreaking or not, we’ll have to wait and see.

    In the meantime, while I’ve heard and read ‘so-so’ reviews about their FF cameras; they interest me because of the Zeiss optics. Having been a Leica user for many years and being a ‘dumped’ R user, (having hung my hat on their empty digital R promises) I would be very interested in Sony if they do a good job with the next generation cameras.

  • Myst

    In the last year sony brought a lot of, well not really innovations, but different cameras, Nikon and Canon only improved their models, Sony tried to fight them in the same product range, but it’s hard to gain market share like that, so now they went a different way, the alternative way, in a few years we can say for sure if it was a good or bad thing.
    So far sony has 4 huge selling points…
    – Zeiss lenses with autofocus
    – a900/850
    – a55 (amazing camera faster AF than D3s, and 10fps all for 850$ Based on PopPhoto tests )
    – Nex5( which is a great selling point for people who want DSLR quality in a P&S style camera)

    I do own a sony, but that has nothing to do with it, i don’t mind getting a canon or nikon if they offer me what i need. So far they still have a long way to go until they have a complete system (A mount and E mount) but it finally seems they have a clearer direction.
    The order should be
    1: Sony
    2: Olympus
    3: Sigma

  • Maybe they can innovate a high dynamic range sensor. Stupid high iso is cool but it’s worthless to the average shooter.

    • Just A Thought

      “Maybe they can innovate a high dynamic range sensor. Stupid high iso is cool but it’s worthless to the average shooter.”

      So you like using Flash indoors – say at weddings, gymnasium sports events, any kind of stage performance or even blinding your pet cat with the bright flash?

      I assume that you never shoot any kind of sporting event, like baseball, football, soccer or assorted motorsports, where high shutter speed is needed even on cloudy days outside?

      I also assume that you prefer the hard dark shadows behind your indoor shots of subjects, when a bounce flash is not possible due to high ceilings?

      I could go on but I think you get the picture. Thanks in advance for speaking for yourself in the future and not for average shooters like me who use and are grateful for the ever improving “Stupid high iso”.

      • OK, there’s a need for high ISO; and if you already have long and/or f/2.8 lenses, there’s no way to go further but using a higher ISO. But… Lemme see something: how would you combine action shooting with an EVF?

      • @Just A Thought
        That’s the whole point! I would like higher DR so I don’t have to do the things that you stated above!

        How’s that chroma noise working out for you past 1600?

        See, I you wouldn’t have to the crutch of amplifying signal noise to catch those extracurricular activities stated earlier. I wouldn’t have to use flash to “compress” the range of the scene to and scare my poor wittle kittahs. Heck, I may even be able to have a decent shutter speed and catch enough ambient light!

        Bah! What do I know? I’ll tell the cats you said “hello.”

    • Mog

      They actually already has a high dynamic range sensor in the form of the new PMW-F3 sensor.

      The sensor is suppose to have 4-times the photosite size than a comparable dSLR. Its estimated to be in the 12-micron range, which makes each photosite twice as large as the Canon 5D Mark II.

      Dynamic range is really a function of how many electrons you can capture per photosite. Larger photosites get better DR.

      You can actually calculate what DR you’ll get based on how much electrons you capture per photosite (full well capacity).

      The other technique to capture higher dyanamic range is to merely sample the image twice at different exposures, most Sony and Pentax has a built in HDR mode.

      • Thanks for the interesting info. I have to say the “average shooter” may not be able to afford that cam or figure out complex math. Just sayin.

    • Panfruit

      Maintaining a high dynamic range at high ISOs is what I want.

  • Stuart

    If their clever feature’s force Canon & Nikon to be smarter its no bad thing, If i was starting out today with what i know now an sony alpha55 is at the top of my list. My investment in Canon’s great lenses is all that kept me. Nikon was No2 until the pentax k5 came out.

  • – a55 (amazing camera faster AF than D3s, and 10fps all for 850$ Based on PopPhoto tests )

    10 fps and AF during those 10 fps? Now all sportjournalists will definitelly buy a A55 😉

    Well it is good to see companies like Sony and Pentax go a slightly different direction than Canon and Nikon. Olympus already did.
    Pentax go for weather sealed small bodies for reasonable prizes, Sony comes with EVF and transculent mirror and Olympus with 4/3 and small bodies and lenses. They are all good alternatives to Canon and Nikon. I hope they all survive.. 🙂

    I shoot Pentax.. I will buy the K5.. A great camera!

  • Panfruit

    Let’s see Sony actually come through with a quality a700 replacement, a competitive a900 replacement, and maybe a non-P&S NEX camera with maybe, you know, some lenses (no good lenses for that mount yet. at all. none.).

    So far, they are still lagging behind Canon and Nikon and Pentax and Olympus for anything other than entry-level models.

    • Sky

      “So far, they are still lagging behind Canon and Nikon and Pentax and Olympus for anything other than entry-level models.”
      – Full Frame? You seen these from Pentax or Olympus?
      – Cheap Full Frame? You seen this anywhere else than in Sony? 😉
      – Mid-range camera? A55/580 beats most of competition in it’s own price range.
      – Any new SLR – you seen from Olympus? lol… 😛

  • camaman

    Sony IS the most innovative camera makers because they innovate as their main business.
    And to sell that innovations they must make cameras, and they have to make them first. Because CaNikon would not dare innovate to this extent out of fear of nonacceptance from their established user base.
    Only when friends of photographer have cameras cooler than them and with interesting innovations will photographers whine enough to Canikon and force them to integrate those features (read buy rights from …say Sony).
    And that is what Sony wants in the first place… thats why they innovate! 🙂
    more or less… 😛

  • The ISO sounds incredible :0

  • Chris P

    I don’t know what Sony are doing in the rest of the world, but here in the UK they are paying dealers to stock their complete camera line, and to reward shop assistants for pushing Sony cameras in preference to both Canon and Nikon. They are literally buying sales volume.

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