The year started with a bang for Sony. There are already declarations that Canon and Nikon are dead. As a Sony user, I think its a little premature to be ringing the bell. The affiliate linked reviews will be telling you that the new A1 is the best camera ever made, and the specs are compelling, but they are specs and specs don’t tell the whole story. The authors on the other hand are paid to tell you how good it is because the more you buy, they more they make.
The problem is Sony’s management team still think creating a professional camera is about putting professional specs in a small body. Let’s not take anything away from Sony…they are damn good at cramming these specs into that tiny camera. But doing that is like taking a small hatchback, putting a race engine and heavy duty suspension in it and putting it on a rally track. It’ll do well, but sooner or later the chassis will break because under the hood, it’s not designed to be a rally car.
When you’re producing the same physical camera shape for cashed up grandpa Joe who wants to travel, Mary the Winter Olympics photographer, Peter the wedding photographer, Jennifer the Instagram photographer and Mark the landscape photographer, you have to ask yourself whether you really understand your market.
The problem with Sony is obvious. Aside from the A7C series, all the newer bodies are the same size and form and that they only difference between pros and amateurs is the specs and some minor internal differences. When you look at the pro grade cameras from Nikon and Canon, the specs are the one thing that don’t tell the whole story. Nikon and Canon may not have make the greatest choices when it comes to their direction with mirrorless but they still understand the professional market.
There is this misconception that Nikon and Canon make their pro grade cameras big because they can’t make smaller cameras (due to mirrorless). They have always been able to make smaller DSLRs. The Nikon D5500 is a fraction of the size of the D6, the D600 is marginally bigger than these APSC cameras and much smaller than the D800 range which I consider to be true pro cameras rather than prosumers like the D600 series. The amateurs call them dinosaurs because of the size. The pros call them “work horses” because they don’t break after 5 years of rain, mud and sand. That’s what happens with pro cameras, they get abused, dropped and scratched.
When you’re producing
There are a couple of reason Nikon and Canon made large professional cameras:
- A workhorse that can take the professional grade knocks. The difference in construction quality between the D800 and the D600 series is huge. The difference going up to the D5/6 series was even bigger. It wasn’t just about a bigger battery or better shutter to handle the faster shutter. The lens mount has to be a lot tougher. I’d feel comfortable dropping a Canon 1D or Nikon D6 and it surviving. I don’t have a lot of confidence that my Sony’s would do the same.
- Better weather sealing. The D600 is weather sealed, but it’s not the kind of camera you’d feel comfortable sitting out in the rain for 3 hours. The Sony A9 and A7 series are similar to the D600 series. There is weather sealing and then there is pro grade weather sealing. If the hotshot on the A7/A9 gets wet you’re in trouble and its not uncommon to hear of weather sealing issues with the A7 and A9 series bodies. The current design that relies on a photographer who can’t do flash photography in the lightest rain is a flaw in itself. The A7riii was beaten by a micro 4/3’s camera Olympus in weather sealing tests. The battery grip being integrated means less problems with weather sealing.
- More robust moving parts. Yes, the Sony is a camera designed to use an electronic shutter, but if you need to use the shutter, you need to know its not going to break and Sony’s shutters don’t have the greatest reputation. It’s the same reason you hear of shutter issues on the D600/D700 series. When you cram a lot of things into a small space, reliability suffers. Sony claims they have a new shutter but I have no doubt that in an attempt to make it as small as possible, it’s resulted in some compromises.
- Lack of portrait grip: When will Sony realise that putting a battery grip on a body is not the same as a camera with a built in battery grip. You can feel the grip flex and move and it creates weak points for durability and weather sealing (see #2 and #3). It also doesn’t solve the space issue between the grip and the lens mount.
- Ergonomics. If you’re holding a camera, you don’t want half a finger off the grip which is a common occurrence with Sony’s camera range. For grandpa Joe the photography enthusiast going on a trip to Antarctica, that’s not an issue because he wants something small and light, but for someone working in the professional field, its important. This is one of Sony’s greatest flaws. They produced a sports camera that has such a small gap between the lens and body, a winter sports photographer with snow gloves can’t use it unless they have tiny fingers.
- Not all users are the same
Whilst this may seem negative, it won’t stop the Sony A1 selling like hotcakes and for god reasons. Its a damn good camera. There thousands of cashed up amateurs who chase specs so the camera will sell in droves despite the shortcomings and most of these users will never admit there are shortcomings, if they even notice it at all.
The fanboys only recognise a problem when Sony fixes it. I had to endure Sony users telling me the A7riii and A9 had the greatest grip in the world until Sony produced the A7riv and A9ii with a new bigger grip, at which point that was the greatest grip in the world.
So here is my advice to Sony. Fire your ergonomics team if they exist. Or hire one if they don’t. Give your tech team a raise. They did an amazing job cramming that much tech into a camera that size, imagine what they could do if you gave them more space. Then fire wherever made the call to make the A1 so small to align to the rest of the gear. If you’re selling a camera for $6500, you can afford to have a separate body shape instead of some cost saving exercise that allows you to re-use battery grips.
I know the Sony fanboys will immediately cry foul at me criticizing the latest holy grail in Sony’s repertoire. I’m not saying it’s a crap camera. It’s pretty amazing. I’m saying there are some clear indications that Sony could be better and they are ignoring the issue.