Sony's Innovative Journey in Camera Design and Technology

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When the digital camera revolution took hold at the turn of the century, the never-ending technological race among camera manufacturers sped up and, with no sign of that race ever slowing down, some runners dropped out; the order of who was leading and who was lagging changed in ways that surprised photographers everywhere.

For some time, Sony’s place within that contest was widely perceived as an also-ran—one that was limited to point-and-shoot cameras that were frequently overshadowed by their competitors, or worse, frequently ignored by consumers.

To assert its relevance, Sony took the radical step of entering the digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera market with the announcement and release of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A100, in 2006. Not merely a toe in the water, this was a deep dive into a field that, while having few players, many considered crowded if only for the outsized dominance the existing manufacturers were thought to have.

It can be argued that companies wishing to start a new product market have it easy, or at least easier, than the situation Sony faced. When trying to break into an established market, it is said that to be successful, “It is not enough to offer something that is just as good as what’s already out there. It has to be better.” Beginning in 2006, when it came to making tools for photographers, Sony got that from the get-go. Since then, that philosophy appears to be a driving force for Sony every step of the way, culminating in a 2013 during which a company whose greatest claims to fame lay largely in the past and outside of photography, is now arguably setting a brisk pace for an entire industry.

The Alpha DSLR-A100 represented not only a bold move, but also a well-timed one. Minolta, once a long-time and respected player in the film and digital camera markets, had merged with Konica in 2004. Shortly after, the combined company decided to cede its place in the camera race and, instead, concentrate on the printing, optics, and medical-imaging businesses which had become core to that combined company. Seeing an opening being vacated by Konica Minolta—albeit a small one—Sony obtained key Konica Minolta camera assets, particularly the Maxxum/Dynax lens mount, giving the company an instant beachhead beyond the point-and-shoot market.

Instantly able to incorporate features such as reliable in-camera metering and anti-shake technologies that consumers had come to expect, along with an established line of Minolta lenses, Sony was able to focus on the area it knew best: electronics.

The initial result was a respectable, if not distinguished, 10-megapixel effort that incorporated a Sony APS-C CCD sensor along with Minolta familiars such as honeycomb metering and Eye Start autofocus. One feature that was unique to the Alpha DSLR-A100 was a type of dynamic range optimization that could be applied by the camera’s electronics to the RAW files, as opposed to being an additional JPEG process. Though generally well received, this feature did not dramatically catapult Sony’s first DSLR above the competition on camera-store shelves, but it hinted at Sony’s ability to leverage its considerable electronics expertise toward improving the process of image-taking.

Within two years, a clearer display of Sony’s engineering potential and an ability to respond to the changing demands of customers was made apparent with the release of the Alpha DSLR-A300. Like its competition, Sony had long realized that the market for digital point-and-shoot cameras was being devoured by smartphones with cameras that could compete with the image quality of cameras at the time. Photographers on the consumer level were increasingly putting down their point-and-shoot cameras for something else, and camera manufacturers certainly wanted them to pick up another camera instead of a smartphone. To accomplish that, camera manufacturers emphasized the image quality from a DSLR that was, and remains, impossible from the small sensors inside smartphones. Though now more widely understood, camera manufacturers had to educate the market on the simple concept that the greater the area of the imaging sensor in the camera, and the greater the area of each of the individual photo diodes on that sensor, the more light that could be absorbed by the camera, resulting in more shadow detail, better color, and a better image than would be otherwise possible.

Despite this, DSLR makers realized that appeals to image quality would not be enough. Almost a decade of digital point-and-shoot camera sales had created a market with customers who were no longer accustomed to looking through a camera’s viewfinder. The act of composing, not simply reviewing a picture on a camera’s rear LCD screen, once considered peculiar had, over time, became expected.

The flat-footed response of many DSLR manufacturers to this market demand was apparent in the initial incorporation of photographing by a DSLR’s rear LCD, or shooting using “Live View.” Customers were being given the ability to take photos using a DSLR without having the camera pressed up against their faces, but the experience felt like the square peg forced through the round hole that it was. This was due to how Live View worked on the earliest DSLRs that provided it. Live View was only possible by flipping up the mirror to allow light to hit the image sensor behind it. However, this meant that the dedicated autofocus sensor would no longer receive light. This meant that when using Live View, one of the main advantages of using a DSLR—near-instantaneous capture of a scene with the press of the shutter—was lost.

"Sony’s solution to this problem showed both imagination as well as common sense..."

Sony’s solution to this problem showed both imagination as well as common sense, and it debuted in the Alpha DSLR-A300 and Alpha DSLR-A350. In those cameras, Sony added another sensor, one dedicated to providing the Live View. The result was a camera where the Live View feed would never have to be interrupted while autofocusing. Autofocus was quick and responsive while photographing using the rear LCD. Coupled with tiltable rear screens, Sony provided photographers of all levels with an increased degree of creativity, while giving digital point-and-shoot users a much more seamless path into the world of higher-quality images.

While realizing their potential as a producer of entry-level DSLRs, Sony also recognized that to be taken seriously as a camera manufacturer, they would have to address professional DSLR users in the form of a “full-frame” camera with an imaging sensor that is about the same size as a 35mm film frame. Sony’s first effort, aimed squarely at professional photographers in this regard, was the Alpha DSLR-A900. With a 24.6-megapixel imaging sensor, it offered the highest resolution in its class. Incorporating dual imaging processors, the Alpha DSLR-A900 was even capable of five-frame-per-second bursts when set to output RAW files. With such technology built into a professional-grade weather-sealed body, the Alpha DSLR-A900 helped prove to the world that Sony had staying power in the DSLR market.

In the fall of 2008, the announcement of the Micro Four Thirds format ushered in a new interchangeable-lens camera category. Until then, moving from a point-and-shoot camera to even the smallest DSLR meant a significantly bigger camera bag. However, with the Micro Four Thirds format, a larger image sensor no longer meant having to give up pocketability, in part, through the omission of the SLR’s mirror system. Micro Four Thirds cameras suddenly represented a potential stepping stone between point-and-shoot cameras and the DSLR. With remarkable speed, Sony responded and upped the ante with the mirrorless NEX-5 and NEX-3. These cameras had a new dedicated E-mount for interchangeable-lenses and were impressively compact, even more so than comparable mirrorless cameras at the time. However, what made the NEX line even more impressive was that it used APS-C image sensors that provide less noise and a greater dynamic range than smaller sensors, such as Micro Four Thirds. 

Inside and out, the NEX-5 and NEX-3 incorporated some of the best features from Sony’s DSLRs and point-and shoots. Aside from a big, light-soaking, DSLR-style sensor, goodies from Sony’s point-and-shoots like Sweep Panorama, Handheld Twilight mode, and Smile Shutter found their way into the NEX cameras. This further showed Sony’s flexibility in acknowledging the demand for a camera with better quality than a point-and-shoot without requiring the size of a DSLR.

The first NEX cameras reflected another key development among photographers that had grown up among digital point-and-shoots and YouTube―the assumption that a camera designed for still photos could also take video clips easily and at reasonably high quality. The NEX-5 and NEX-3 exceeded contemporary mirrorless cameras as well as many DSLR cameras in this regard, offering continuous focus and exposure control, as well as stereo sound, while using an E-Mount lens during recording.

Since then, Sony has steadily improved its NEX cameras. Examples of this include Wi-Fi within the NEX-5R; a flash, an OLED eyepiece viewfinder, as well as a tactile mode dial that were all built into the NEX-6; and the Tri-Navi control system and high-resolution 24-megapixel sensor that were packed into the NEX-7. Between and among these cameras where numerous other NEX models that offered incremental improvements, each helping to close the gap between Sony mirrorless cameras and compact DSLRs in terms of breadth and depth of features.

As Sony took the APS-C sensor and engineered an entirely new line of NEX cameras around it, its approach to the DSLR was no less ambitious. The work of more and more enthusiasts and professionals had come to demand the incorporation of video in DSLRs. Camera technology was forced to follow, but initially, it would hobble along.

The potential of a DSLR sensor to provide excellent video by virtue of its large size was long recognized. Would-be cinematographers could benefit from the combination of resolution, shadow detail, color fidelity, and especially, the depth-of-field control a DSLR sensor could provide. Also, before DSLRs featured video, point-and-shoot cameras were already taking video clips for a while, due to their design as Live View devices. It made sense that the feature would be able to work its way into DSLRs.

Unfortunately, taking only one step would subject the experience of recording with a DSLR to the same difficulties most DSLR cameras had when photographing with Live View, particularly when it came to focusing on a subject. Central to this problem was the mirror in DSLRs that needed to be flipped up to expose the imaging sensor so that a preview, and now a video clip, could be made. While the mirror was flipped up, the focusing sensors in such cameras would have no access to scene, making them momentarily useless during times they would be needed most: when the subject or photographer was moving in ways that would change the point of focus.

Sony, and certainly many photographers and filmmakers, had decided that was unacceptable. In 2010, a solution was announced in the Alpha SLT-A33 and SLT-A55 Single Lens Translucent (SLT) cameras. As the SLT name implies, these cameras incorporated a translucent mirror, but it was the further addition of a dedicated phase-detection autofocus sensor along with an electronic viewfinder that made them each a completely different animal than the DSLRs that came before. To be fair, Sony was not the first camera manufacturer to use a translucent mirror, but the company applied it in a way and at a time when the benefits could outweigh the negatives.

Previous cameras that used a translucent mirror would divide the light entering the camera between the film or imaging sensor and the optical viewfinder. This frequently resulted in a situation where the photographer’s view, the ability to properly expose, or both, were seriously compromised. Once again, Sony would challenge the assumptions behind the use of a current or in this case, previous technology, and create something new.

By this time, Sony had accumulated extensive experience in utilizing sensors to record photos as well as video. Also, screen technology as it appeared on digital cameras was by then fairly mature, with a majority of  photographers satisfied with the ability of those screens to help them make the decisions needed before pressing the shutter button. In other words, solutions to the problems encountered during the first uses of translucent mirrors in cameras had now presented themselves.

While it may have been apparent that digital sensors would be the future of photography, less obvious was that it made the entire optical viewfinder system in DSLR cameras obsolete, as well. When an imaging sensor is connected to a video signal processor and that processor is connected to a screen, the function of the optical viewfinder system—to allow a photographer to see what the camera sees—is effectively met. If the older optical system is eliminated while using a translucent mirror, more light can be conserved, and that light can instead be sent to the imaging sensor to benefit the photographer’s exposure.

"By virtue of eliminating the optical viewfinder and having a translucent mirror work in tandem with a phase-detection autofocus sensor, the quality of images produced during such fast bursts could also be ensured. "

In the Alpha SLT-A33 and SLT-A55, the optical viewfinder was discarded and replaced with a 1.4 million-pixel electronic viewfinder. The signal for these viewfinders originated from the camera’s imaging sensor and could also feed the rear LCD. When used, the eyepiece viewfinder provided the benefits of real-time previews of camera settings, as well as additional stability during video recording by giving the option of holding the camera up to one’s face in the same manner a still photo could be taken.

The light that is diverted from the imaging sensors in the Alpha SLT-A33 and SLT-A55 is instead sent to a phase-detection autofocus sensor. With a continuous source of light provided by the translucent mirror to such an autofocus sensor, these cameras offered a photography and video-recording experience that was, at the time, unique.

Very high burst rates were enabled, 7 frames per second in the Alpha SLT-A33 and 10 frames per second in the Alpha SLT-A55. By virtue of eliminating the optical viewfinder and having a translucent mirror work in tandem with a phase-detection autofocus sensor, the quality of images produced during such fast bursts could also be ensured. The autofocus sensors in those cameras would never have to be interrupted, and far more light could reach the imaging sensor than if an optical viewfinder were present. In video mode, the same technology combination provided continuous autofocus that exceeded the focusing capabilities of traditional video-enabled DSLRs.

Over the next two years, further refinements to the Alpha SLT line would appear in the SLT-A35, SLT-A65, SLT-A77, SLT-A57, and SLT-A37. In the fall of 2012, Sony announced a full-frame SLT replacement to the Alpha DSLR-A900, the Alpha SLT-A99.

When the Alpha SLT-A99 was compared to the Alpha DSLR-A900, it was not only apparent how much the technology that could be found in a professional 35mm digital camera had changed, but the rate of that change had significantly sped up as well. The Alpha SLT-A99 was, in many ways, more unique than its full-frame predecessor. Like the Alpha DSLR-A900, the Alpha SLT-A99 offers 24 megapixels in a solidly built chassis. As an Alpha SLT camera, it features a translucent mirror, a phase-detection autofocus sensor, as well as a 2.4 million-pixel electronic viewfinder.

On the Alpha SLT-A99’s imaging sensor itself are phase-detection sensors for potentially more reliable autofocus. Further capitalizing on the Alpha SLT-A99’s inherent video strengths, Sony includes 1080p60 video resolution, the ability to output uncompressed video over HDMI, the option of an XLR adapter, as well as clickless controls. Upon its release, the Alpha SLT-A99 not only reflected the fact that Sony was the most forward-thinking when it came to releasing a camera with a 35mm-sized sensor, but the degree to which video had become such an integral part of the professional photographer’s needs.

The development of the Alpha SLT line is one of the clearest examples of Sony’s focus on the requirements of today’s photographers, while displaying a certain degree of fearlessness in meeting those needs. Sony recognized that the defining characteristic of the SLR, the reflex mirror, for what it was in a 21st-Century camera environment: a primitive, mechanically based preview tool that had become a liability and a technological stone around an ambitious manufacturer’s neck. Beginning with the Alpha SLT-A33 and SLT-A55, Sony left the reflex mirror behind and moved itself and an entire camera category forward.

After Akio Morita ordered the development of the Sony Walkman, Sony’s consumer products would, for years, not only be representative of innovation and quality engineering of media devices, but would go further by defining expectations for how we would interact with the media to which they gave us access. Following the release of the Walkman, an association of music as not only a personalized, but also an ultraportable feature of our lives, continues to this day.

For years to come, that magnetic cassette player, along with other Sony products such as the CD players, boom boxes, TVs, and VCRs, would help define life wherever Sony products could be found. In time, the status of those items would wear off as they became commoditized, or worse, were made obsolete by technology’s race forward.

However, by making cameras, Sony has demonstrated not only the ability to stay relevant, but has shown that it can lead, especially since the last half of 2012, when it really began to pull away from the pack in virtually every known camera category.

The strongest hint of Sony’s boldest releases to come would not appear in the flagship Alpha SLT line or even their critically acclaimed Alpha NEX mirrorless line, but among their point-and-shoots.

In the summer of 2012, Sony announced the Cyber-shot DSC-RX100, a 4.0 x 2.3 x 1.4″ compact that houses a 1" sensor. If only for having a sensor at three to two-and-a-half times larger than most other point-and-shoots, the RX100 would be a radical product, but Sony further blessed the point-and-shoot customer by providing it with an f/1.8 aperture at its widest setting, a sharp Carl Zeiss lens, full manual controls, and RAW output.

Until the RX100, the best point-and-shoots had built into them the idea that if you wanted to use such a small digital camera, outsized sacrifices in image quality or creative control had to be made. Suddenly, more assumptions were toppled by Sony.

Considering the excellent shadow detail and colors that can be generated by the RX100’s large sensor and the lens behind which it sits, one could be excused if they thought Sony had no more surprises to offer photographers whose preferred camera bag is their pocket. In spectacular fashion, these notions were proven completely wrong when Sony announced the Cyber-shot DSC-RX1, the first-ever full-frame compact camera. Featuring a 24-megapixel imaging sensor and a Carl Zeiss 35mm f/2 lens, Sony camera products had suddenly come to represent possibility where elsewhere one would be confronted with limitations. While other manufacturers were busy slicing and dicing their product lines into ever more discreet categories in an effort to more accurately target a certain “kind” of photographer, Sony made a statement in the Cyber-shot DSC-RX1: that it should not matter if you prefer an Alpha SLT camera or a Cyber-shot, you should have at least the chance to get the very best possible image quality.

What if, like many people, your preferred camera is a smartphone? The emergence of social-media services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr through the early to mid-2000s, and their skyrocketing popularity since then, has created an association with pictures as not only something to be shared, but something to be shared immediately.

Always carried by their owners and connected to a wireless network, smartphones naturally fulfill that last requirement. However, photographs require light, sometimes in abundant amounts, while portable devices like smartphones are required to be compact. As the components in smartphones, particularly their built-in imaging sensors, are miniaturized in the course of their design, the ability of those sensors to resolve shadow details, reproduce colors, and freeze action is inherently compromised.

It has been safely assumed that since smartphones have taken their place as the most popular type of camera, more images have been taken than ever before. It might also be safely assumed that at the same time, the proportion of unusable images taken has never been greater.

For years, camera manufacturers have appealed to the smartphone photographer with the facts: that for the sake of quality, their images need a bucketful of light, not just a thimble’s worth. However, with online social media services now the primary destination for where images are published, convincing a smartphone photographer to carry a second screen with them along with a device that, while more limited in its ability to capture but can also edit and upload, has been a tough sell.

In the autumn of 2013, Sony took a new and radical approach to the smartphone-photography phenomenon. While the camera industry as a whole continued to plead with smartphone photographers to come to them in order to solve the image-quality woes on display at countless Facebook albums and Instagram feeds, Sony stepped out of line and instead went directly after these users.

What they brought with them were cameras, yes, but miniature cameras with no viewfinder or screen that can instead be securely clipped onto a smartphone, the Cyber-shot DSC-QX100 and the Cyber-shot DSC-QX10. Unlike optics-only add-ons for smartphones that do not address the fundamental inability of smartphones to successfully take a picture in many situations due to their small sensors, the Cyber-shot DSC-QX100 not only has a 3.6x Carl Zeiss zoom lens, but also includes a 1" back-illuminated sensor. Images from this sensor are stored on the Cyber-shot DSC-QX100’s micro-SD card, and Wi-Fi connectivity allows it to interface with a smartphone’s screen to control the camera, as well as for access to the images so that they can be uploaded to the social media service of the smartphone photographer's choice.

While not including a Carl Zeiss lens, the Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 instead includes a 1/2.3" sensor that helps make 10x zoom possible in a similar form factor as the Cyber-shot DSC-QX100. In either case, they may be used while clipped to a smartphone, or independently as ultra-compact cameras whose point of view is limited only by what angles the photographer can point them when in hand.

While Sony courted smartphone photographers, the ultra-zoom compact user was not been forgotten. For those photographers who want to shoot from across the room or right in front of their subject, yet have no intention of ever changing a lens, Sony created the Cyber-shot DSC-RX10. Like their smaller cousins, the typical limitation within this camera category is frequent difficulty photographing in low light, especially at higher zoom settings. Usually, as the lens barrel is extended, the path for light narrows. Less light enters the camera, and a bad low-lighting situation is made even worse. To help address this, the Cyber-shot DSC-RX10’s 24-200mm equivalent (8.3x optical zoom) lens offers a wide f/2.8 aperture at all zoom settings and a 20-megapixel 1" imaging sensor—the largest within this class of camera. With the potential of plenty of light to always make its way into the camera, and a bigger sensor than usual to soak all of that light up, these features look to offer a new experience when using an ultra-zoom compact, where image quality frequently fell as the zoom setting was increased.

Throughout 2013, it was expected that Sony would have a release for the very high end of the camera spectrum. Perhaps it would be an update to the feature-packed Alpha SLT-A99? No, instead Sony carved out another new class of digital camera by releasing the Alpha a7R and Alpha a7 full-frame E-mount cameras. The a7R and a7 offer 36 and 24 megapixels, respectively. The 36-megapixel a7R eliminates the optical low-pass filter, so while the possibility of moiré patterns could technically increase, no barrier is placed upon the resolving potential of the sensor, whose resolution is likely high enough to prevent moiré patterns from appearing anyway. For the photographer who likes to shoot faster, the a7 includes phase detection built onto its sensor, a front-curtain shutter to shorten time between images, as well as five-frame-per-second burst mode, as opposed to the a7R’s four-frame-per-second burst.

What is arguably most significant about these cameras is the physical aspects they have in common. Both the a7R and a7 weigh just over a pound and measure 5.00 x 3.70 x 1.89″. With an accessory battery grip, both the a7R and a7 are strongly reminiscent of the Mamiya 7, a camera beloved for making medium-format film, and the quality advantages it conferred over smaller film formats, extremely portable and convenient. With a full-frame sensor in each, this new breed of Sony Alpha (the lightest and smallest that offers full-frame capability) most symbolizes Sony’s commitment to engineering products that emphasize image quality while, at the same time, eliminating size and weight barriers that cause photographers to compromise in that regard.

Ever improving, Sony then released the Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II and the Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R. The changes to what have been widely considered the finest point-and-shoot cameras on the market include the addition of a more light-sensitive backlit sensor (first pioneered in the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX1 and Cyber-shot DSC-WX1), as well as wireless connectivity within the RX100 II and the omission of an optical low-pass filter from the RX1R.

Not content to merely take a victory lap, Sony’s innovations continued into 2014 apace. Adding the 12-megapixel Alpha a7S to its full-frame E-Mount lineup, Sony brought to market the first camera of its kind to use the entire sensor width while capturing 4K video. As 4K video still has yet to become mainstream, the a7S is a demonstration of Sony’s willingness to lead, and lead on a new front by engineering improvements to technology that many other manufacturers would consider cutting edge.


While the a7S improves upon a new technology that many have yet to incorporate into their lives, the Sony Alpha a7 II revisits and renews what most have long considered an indispensible feature—image stabilization. Regardless of whether or not a lens with built-in image stabilization is attached, due to the a7II’s five-axis full-frame stabilized sensor, not only is camera shake over pitch and yaw compensated for, but also during horizontal shifts, vertical shifts, and while the a7II is pointed toward the subject and rolled. What results is the equivalent of up to 4.5 stops of additional shutter speed to control for the photographer’s own movements. While the a7S represents a potential improvement in what video is captured regardless of the user or subject matter, the 24-megapixel a7 II’s five-axis stabilization improves upon how video and still photos are actively captured by the user. With both the a7S and a7II, the advanced tools to obtain a high degree of image and video quality are made more accessible than before.

As in 2013, it is arguably in its continued efforts to reach out to smartphone photographers where Sony’s inventiveness is most clearly demonstrated. Most camera manufacturers have varied in the results of their efforts to convince smartphone photographers to use a camera with a sensor larger than the one built into their mobile devices. However, those efforts consisted mainly of trying to entice the smartphone user into using the most compact point-and-shoot camera possible. Few would have conceived of, or if so, considered it possible to bridge the gap between an emerging generation of photographer who associates a camera with an icon on a touchscreen versus the proverbial black box and its interchangeable lenses.

Recognizing technology’s potential to increasingly blur the lines that once defined, categorized, and compartmentalized photography equipment, Sony did exactly that with the Alpha QX1. Inspired by its Cyber-shot DSC-QX100 and Cyber-shot DSC-QX10, the Alpha QX1 gives smartphone photographers access to Sony E-Mount lenses or any lens that can be adapted to an E-Mount through a device that, in effect, connects the traditional bayonet camera lens to a mobile device though Wi-Fi. Most importantly though, is the APS-C sensor the Alpha QX1 places between a connected lens and smartphone. This, along with a built-in flash, RAW output, plus Program, Aperture Priority, as well as Shutter Priority modes, provides smartphone photographers light-gathering ability, optical quality, and a degree of photographic control that would otherwise be unattainable.

The innovations that Sony made available to the smartphone photographer from 2013 through 2014 tended to share the common attribute of providing capabilities found in stand-alone cameras. Recently however, Sony has incorporated technology initially created for smartphones into its point-and-shoot cameras with similarly dramatic results.

The stacked back-illuminated sensor has now been incorporated into the Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IV and the Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 II. Back-illuminated sensors have long offered light-gathering and, therefore, image quality improvements over previous non-back-illuminated designs. Unlike with previous-generation CMOS sensors, the back-illuminated sensor’s circuitry is not placed above the connected photodiodes, which are then partially obscured from the light they are trying to absorb. However, the surface area occupied by that circuitry does reduce the back-illuminated sensor’s potential relative to its total surface area, should it be completely covered by photodiodes instead.

To solve this problem for smartphone manufacturers looking to install a better-quality camera, Sony announced the stacked back-illuminated sensor in 2012. By moving the CMOS sensor’s circuitry off the light-absorbing surface and embedding it into the substrate that previously supported both the photodiodes and circuitry, Sony more fully realized the light-gathering potential of any-sized imaging sensor. More photodiodes or larger photodiodes can now be placed on a sensor’s surface for corresponding improvements in resolution and/or light-gathering ability.

Since its introduction, the stacked back-illuminated sensor has provided smartphone users with radical image-quality improvements over earlier camera phones and smartphones. For users of the RX100 IV and the RX10 II, both of which feature 1" sensors, the benefits of the stacked back-illuminated sensor may be most apparent in the corresponding increase in area provided to the sensor circuitry that is moved under the sensor’s surface by design. With more room for image-processing circuits, both the RX100 IV and the DSC-RX10 II offer faster continuous image-capture rates than their predecessors, but most significantly, the ability to easily record UHD 4K movie clips at 30 fps, as well as full HD at slow-motion frame rates of up to 960 fps in the NTSC video standard or 1000 fps when set to PAL.

While its sensor does not share the stacked design used by the point-and-shoots, the Sony Alpha a7RII Mirrorless Digital Camera is no less notable thanks to its distinction of having the first full-frame back-illuminated sensor. Within the a7RII, the advantages of a 42.2-megapixel 35.9 x 24mm BSI sensor are realized, providing its user with a maximum ISO of 102400, along with 399 phase detection elements covering 45% of its surface, the most in its class, resulting in a 40% increase in focus speed over the Sony Alpha 7R. UHD 4K capability is incorporated into the a7RII, as well, as it supports 3840 x 2160p recording at 30 or 24 fps. With the ability to capture movie clips at durations of up to 29 minutes and 59 seconds at both UHD 4K and Full HD 1920 x 1080p, the a7RII is a compelling option for cinematographers looking to create work using one of the largest sensors available to them. 

Sony’s offerings, particularly the most ambitious additions to its lineup throughout 2013, 2014, and up to this point in 2015, show a camera manufacturer leading by going beyond the “small, medium, and large” paradigm of point-and-shoots, mirrorless cameras, and DSLRs. In a nine-year imaginative tour de force, Sony has shown that cameras can be as varied as the photographers, as well as cinematographers who use them, and that great image quality is possible no matter which Sony you choose.

 

Be sure to check out our Inventive Camera Designs from Sony Infographic on B&H Explora. 

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My jaw just dropped. Is this a paid advertisement?

I agree. I thank Sony for pushing the camera industry in many ways, and have indeed in the past few years changed my perception of them enough to buy cameras from them. But really, this article looks like paid advertisement. The beginning of the journey is rather informative, the end looks like marketing copy/paste.

Writing that the NEX were more compact than other mirrorless while forgetting to mention that the lenses aren't is a bit easy too.

Maybe! Like any other from Canon and Nikon...though

My family started buying Sony products when the first Trinitron color TV came out, I think in the early or mid 1960's. As I became of age to afford purchasing my own electronics I stayed with Sony based on the performance I had seen. I have owned a multitude of their products in my life, I'm 65 now, and currently have four Sony digital cameras, among them an RX 100 III and an A7 and their image quality is stunning. I also own a Sony video camera and four home theater components. Their stuff doesn't break. The only problem I had is when a power spike came into my home as the result of a vicious lightning storm. My receiver was hit, it fried and I sent it to Sony for repair. It was off warranty which wouldn't have mattered anyway, it wasn't product fault. Just the same, Sony repaired it for free and payed shipping both ways. How many companies will do that?

This may sound like an advertisement. It's not. Simply testament to my wonderful experience with Sony products over almost 50 years. They have earned my loyalty and I will continue to purchase their excellent products.

I should start from Sony 707 then R1 and so on..

Yes, i started with the R1 from Sony, because at that time in 2005 the EOS 5D was very expensive, have had used the Olympus 5050, 8080 before the DSC R1....and B&H is wrong, the Sony NEX (now Alpha) Line with E-Mount doesn't came into 2008, but just into 2010!

But still nowadays, -in 2015- the R1 does make marvellous pictures with just 10 MP - it's the great ZEISS Lens, i'd have loved to see that lens as a A-Mount Version. (24-120/2.8-4.8, just for the record)

500px.com/doomed-forever

Good Light, Marc

Hi Marc,

What was mentioned as coming out in the fall of 2008 was the Micro Four Thirds format that preceded the Sony NEX cameras. After talking a little bit about how the NEX cameras fit into Sony’s lineup, we did mention the NEX cameras as being new under the “2010” section. Happy to clear that up. Thanks for commenting!

Absent from here is the fact that what really ushered NEXs into fame was the firmware update that allowed Focus Peaking, propelling the use of third party lenses, almost any lens available, with NEX with more flexibility thanks to its x1.5 crop instead of the x2 crop of MFT.

Focus Peaking pretty much revived the second hand lens market for old lenses.

That would've happened even without focus peaking. 

     I have used nikons since the F2 to the F3.  I have had canon since the AE 1 to the EOS 1D Mk II.  I sold it all and switched over to sony when the A7 series came out.  Reason?  the mirror is a relic which has been replaced by the OLED viewfinder.  The advnatages of the EVF far outweigh the advantages of the mirror.   Secondly Sony invented the digital still camera back in 1886.  It was called the Mavica Pro.  Digital photography is nothing more than grabbing a digital video frame and since sony has owned the worldwde professional video market since the late 60's,  I think they got that part worked out pretty well.  Also lets not forget  they do make the best sensors for commeercial purposes on the planet.  

Kinda makes me sad that no mention of the A700. ou go from A100 to A300, straight to A900, with no mention of the excellent A700 between those!

Excellent article, but where does the a6000 fit in? It was not mentioned.

Really where is the a6000? That's a revolutionary AF shutter speed!

I must repeat what another has noted, as to what about the a6000, as I thought it was the first step into the new territory?

I bought the A100 and didn't use it for more than a couple of months.  The autofocus never worked properly on my Minolta AF lenses.

I bought the A77 and realized quickly that you couldn't tether it.  What you could do though was to fine manual focus using an enlarged and steerable portion of the frame.  Plus, the camera worked excellently with my Minolta AF lenses.  What was missing, however, was a way to get all of my old Minolta MD and MC glass to work properly.  The only solution was to purchase a converter with a lens -- and the lenses in the converters were absolutely horrible.  In addition, because of the configuration of the camera, it wouldn't work without back extenders on the Minolta bellows systems I had.  The other horrible thing was that none of the batteries I'd bought for the A100 worked with the A77, even though they were identical in format -- because Sony changed the processor in the batteries.

Ok, I should have known better than to try sony a third time -- but I did.  I bought the a6000 and found that Sony had done the equivalent for me of hitting a home run out of the park.  Because the sensor on the a6000 was just behind the flange, to use any Minolta AF lenses required a $250 converter -- which I bought.  But, to use my old Minolta MD/MC glass, I no longer needed a converter with a lens -- I merely needed a tube converter with an NEX male and an MD/MC female.  Suddenly, all of my old lenses became usable.   In addition, the camera now exactly fit my Minolta bellows system, and with a Rodenstock 50MM or Nikon 65MM enlarger lens on the front and a Beseler dichroic colorhead as a light source, became a slide and negative converter capable of not only handling the full frame of 35mm slides and negatives, but also the medium format negatives my wedding photographer had given to me when he retired.  With the magnification capability in the a6000, I was able to do "grain focussing" just as well as I had in my enlarger days.

I think a lot of other people figured this out too.  The cost of old glass on EBay went from being bargain to being almost-not-bargain as people realized that old Minolta, Nikon, Canon, Zeiss etc glass could be used on these cameras with no problem.

Of course, with the A6000, I had to get used to the fact that my lens now always weighed twice or more what the camera did.  I had to buy two of those NEX/MD converters -- one with a tripod mount, and one without -- because you do NOT want to mount your old glass on your a6000 and then to use the mount on the bottom of the A6000. 

Another problem is that pesky 1.6x magnification because all the old Minolta lenses are for full frame 35mm and the a77 and a6000 both have APS-C format imagers.  I'm waiting for them to fix all the technical glitches associated with using full frame sensors with full frame lenses (the slight vignetting and color banding at the edges of the photograph) and to up the pixel ***** from 24MP to 50 or so, and then I'll buy my "last" camera.

But there is an advantage to the 1.6 magnification.  I have one of those prized 55MM 1.2 Minolta lenses, and 1.6*50 = 80mm -- the sweet spot for face portraits.  The Bokeh of the 1.2 is all there, and the narrow depth of field at 1.2 is there too.  Ahh.

I have been shooting Nikon as a working Pro for over 40 yrs. In December 2014, I purchased a 7R with the only lens available in the store a Tamron tele-zoom 3.5 I am very dissapointed. It is not a Nikon. So should I now purchase the newest version?

Yes and no, go and buy a superior lens like the zeiss lenses that Sony offers. I too shot with Nikon and Canon and they are great camera's.
But Sony is upping the ante now. they're technology is surpassing canon and Nikons. Don't be left behind, they are only going to go forward from here and not backwards.

Before you go out and purchase the newest  version, if I were you I'd look at all that old Nikon glass in your inventory and begin thinking -- yup, I have some really good stuff here.  Is there any way I can mount these to the 7R?

So, since we are on the B&H site, let's take a look at what you'd need:

$300:  http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/737925-REG/Novoflex_NEX_NIK_Adapte...

$100:  http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/983738-REG/metabones_mb_nf_e_bm2_n...

Looks promising.  The novoflex adapters (in fact, every NEX/something adapter) will handle full frame -- the adapter's flanges are for full frame, and the cylinder allows it too.

After that is to realize that autofocussing isn't going to work with this rig, because there's just a tube between the camera and the lens.   For the a6000 (the predecessor to the 7 series), I used a couple of features -- I enabled "focus peaking" and I attached the magnification to one of the back buttons.  So, the technique is to use the focus peaking to get the focus into the ballpark and then use the magnifier to fine focus the area in the image you want.

Note that f-stop is not coupled either.  So you do all of the above with the lens wide open, and then you stop down to where you think depth of field will be nicest.  I find that if you stop down first and then focus, you get something that appears to be in focus but to your really critical eye -- isn't.  So do critical focussing wide open.  I don't shoot sports photography, so I have no idea how fast one can do all of this.  My stuff is slow moving critters like marching bands or cats or people seated at tables or brides and grooms. 

Now, I realize that $100 or $300 for an adapter seems a bit much, but I really like the Novoflex adapter; if you check the reviews, the metaflex has a bunch of happy customers too.  I have four adapters for my a6000  -- one for Minolta full frame AF lenses, one without a tripod mount for Minolta MD/MC lenses, one with a tripod mount, and one without a tripod mount but with a built in neutral density filter so I can finely control both exposure and depth of field.

Good luck.  Maybe the Tamron wasn't good enough glass, but if the Nikon glass still looks like a failure, I'd say don't waste your money on another Sony, because Nikon glass is good stuff.

The other comments from the Poster's below have alot of good tips and points.  The first thing I would address is your lens choice.  Tamron does make some great lenses, but without knowing which specific one you purchased I can't comment on it directly, but its possible the one you selected was not the best choice optically speaking. Ultimately the lens is the most important aspect of the camera so it pays to make sure that if your not happy with a camera's image quality, to first question the lens.

What I would recommend doing before investing alot more money in a new camera, or even adapters for your Nikon lenses you have, is to rent a few choice Sony and Zeiss lenses for the camera, so you can see how these lenses perform on the A7r.  I would also recommend that if you're interest is in a new camera, to also rent that model before purchasing just to get a sense of how the new models perform. 

You bought a Tamron lens? Without an adapter, the only emount Tamron is the 18-200... which is an APS-C lens. That means your are only using half of the full resolution. You need a full frame (FE) lens. If you really want a Telezoom of that sort, then the Sony 24-240mm is the only option.

The reference to anti aliaising filter and quotation that the sensor resolution may be adequate to prevent this, is actually completely missing the point. Anti aliaising, or low pass filters, are designed primarily to overcome the inadequacies imposed by pixel binning when using the sensor for video.

The photo sensor requirements and method of sequential readout of data will limit the rate of data transfer, hence the sequential scan and image skew created by a rolling shutter mechanism. Early cameras, like the Canon EOS5D MkII exhibited appalling cross colour and aliaising due to their inability to get ALL of the information out of the sensor fast enough for video. So, they comptomised by dumping - or not even scanning, a significant number of horizontal lines when outputting video. This gives the effect of a venetian blind over the image. So any detailed horizontal information that lines up with that 'blind' produces aliaisng in the final output. The 'fix' is to attach a low pass optical filter in front of the sensor, essentially reducing the resolution to match the limited vertical resolution caused by line dropping, or pixel binning. This reduces or eliminates the aliaising. It has nothing to do with still photos. Aliaising in still photos is caused only when the resolution of the sensor is inadequate to resolve a fine pattern in the image area. Cross colour or pattern results. The Sony NEW sensor technologies, such as the precise sensor pixel match to video format resolution as in the A7s gives zero aliaising as there is no difference in the resolution of the sensor compared to the deliverable video resolution. This only holds true for UHD in the case of the A7s. Aliaising can be seen on HD, albeit it very controlled. Another sort of aliaising can also occur - which is temporal in cause. As things move and edges change profile to the sensor, there is inevitably a small amount of interference caused. Very difficult to see in most normal shooting circumstances. The A7s is undoubtedly a logical move, the smaller pixel resolution of the sensor allows easier transfer of the data at speed, and the finite 'matching' resolution of sensor to format of video, allows minimal or absent aliaising, a factor which was most degrading from early cameras such as the EOS5D MkII (which I owned and grew to hate). Sony's new foray into logical development, taking information out of the sensor 'en block' rather than scanned, is yet to evolve to perfection. With photo sensors getting more light, the only challenge now is to extract 'global shutter' type data from the sensor. The use of DRAM back to the sensor enables the possibility of a global shutter that extracts ALL the video detail from the sensor in one fell swoop rather than line by line sequentially. As this evolves further, no doubt other sensor manufacturers will follow suit. Please note that this technology concept was originally pioneered some ten years ago by a research project at a British University. Kudos to Sony for developing and continuing the evolution of this particularly good technology, and making it affordable to the marketplace.

I have used Sony. Products since the 70's because they were always beautifully made and leading edge. Their reel to reel tape decks, amplifiers, portable tape recorders ect were exeptional. As the article implies they lost their way as many of the items they led in became commoditized, what was propritary technology was emulated, and high profit margins were eroded. Apple eventually ate their lunch and sadly Sony became from a consumer perspective, for a while, an also ran. The purchase of Minolta's technology jump started them into the SLR Market. I first used a Sony digital point and shoot in 2002 and was amazed at the colours and image quality. My previous digital camera was a Kodak DC50. Although I eventually purchased Canon digital Cameras as my first serious foray into digital photography (G4, 20D and 5D) because they nicely fitted my needs and because I had always been a Nikon film shooter and at that time Canon had, in my view, better leading edge products.

i then sold all my Canon gear and moved to Nikon (D300, D700 and now D800E) because I have many wonderful Nikkor lenses and they still work on my latest Nikon gear. Also because the Nikon bodies I chose were, again in my view, better made and more user friendly than the Canon ones, the D800E is the best camera I have ever used.

The best thing about Nikon is that they have kept their lens mount and ensured campatability with their latest products and not suddenly rendered obsolete ones large investments in their optics. This, and of course their excellent bodies, has earned my loyalty.

However inspite of my large investment in Nikon gear I am seriously looking at alternatives and presently Fuji and Sony are my prime considerations. Especially Sony due to the quality of their sensors and because of the FX format, which I am very used to and like from my film SLR days.

Sony, as far as I am concerned, as eaten everyones lunch. They have apparently not held back in order tp protect existing product lines but have forged ahead with innovation and new very highly regarded leading edge and excellent products. Unfortunately the market leaders, Nikon and Canon are beginning to look like "also rans" . Sony has been through this with their failure to innovate and understands what it is to be left behind whilst new rivals forge ahead. Nikon and Canon still have to learn this lesson and are now loosing serious ground in their efforts to protect what is fast becoming an obsolete line whilst new and more nimble competitors are forging ahead. A truly great time to be a photographer.

A big thank you to B&H and Mr. Gee for this excellent, ambitious and highly informative article. I gave it a quick read through, watched a few of the videos, and plan on revisiting the article and watching the the videos I missed in the near future. The tie in between the Sony Walkman from the early 1980's was inspired. While not a Sony owner, I am grateful for the Sony sensors inside my Nikons. I've had my eye on the Sony A7 series -- perhaps I'll get one by December. The video presenters are funny -- in a good way. Yeah, I'm a "control freak" and proud of it! :) 

Cool article!

I have the A7 and A7r with 5 or 6 Sony G/Zeiss-Sony OOS lenses but have been unable to fine these lens profiles listed when using the development module of Adobe LR CC. 

Do you know if Sony makes the info available to the labs that develop the lens profiles or is there a problem with Adobe updating their apps?

I am using the Zeiss/Sony FE f4 16-35mm, 24-70mm,70-200mm G, f1.8 55mm to name a few but the only time I can enable a lens profile is if I am using one of my Nikon or Canon lenses!

I spoke with a Sony representative today regarding this, and they indicated that Adobe hasn't shown any interest in developing the lens profiles for their lenses.  I am sorry about that. 

I post-processed my A7ii pictures in LR CC and there are lens profiles for sony(FE55 1.8, 135STF in my case), so I'm not sure why there aren't any for you.

bought a sony a7 with the $600. sony flash. was very disappointed that the camera would only take one photo at a time with the flash. it was not possible to constantly shoot flash photos. you had to take your finger off the shutter release button to take another photo. has sony fixed this annoying problem yet?

So the flash does not support burst shooting.
This is not a problem with the camera.
You could try using a manual flash like yn560. It tries to fire on every shot.

We conducted a test of the Sony A7 camera with the HVL-F60m flash in our store location to see if we could duplicate your issue.  We were able to have the flash fire continuously in just about every mode.  The things to take into consideration are that 1) the flash must be set to TTL mode (not manual), and 2) the camera must be set to “Continuous Speed Priority” mode.  From there the camera will shoot continuously and the flash will keep up until it has to recycle (when it has to recycle is always a variable as TTL flash shots are each different, in that the camera is forcing the flash only to output as much light/power as necessary for the given exposure to come out properly exposed).  If you do not have these setting set, the flash will not continuously fire. – Yossi

Thank you Mr. Gee and B&H for an informative, well written overview of the Sony cameras. These types of articles are a great help in choosing equipment and save many hours of research allowing me to find the products that seem to fit and then doing additional reasearch. 

I am looking forward to Sony coming up with a medium format digital camera like the RX1R that would have a fixed focal lens of 1.8, an ISO over 100,000, shoot video, and shoot at 5 or more frames per second.

There's the Leica Q meeting your needs , available(almost) immediately. Came with a great viewfinder and fantastic Auto/Manual, normal/Macro switch overs.

a sony RX2 with a Zoom would be super . Not everybody needs a 35 mm lense for shooting people or portraits . I want the RX2 for its leaf shutter electronical stuff (x) sync with 1/2000 of a second no need for HSS then for fill in flash with harsh bright sunlight.

No mention of tge A7s ridiculously high iso capabilities?

Since the release of the NEX-7 I have wanted to experience the Mirrorless range that Sony offered, I was sold on the idea not so much by Sony but by my previous experience of using an Optical Viewfinder with the Fujifilm Finepix HS-10 / 20 seies of camera's. I was further sold by the image quality and ease of use / dynamic range of my DX / APSC Nikon D7000, both using Sony sensors, as a combination of both the NEX-7 made sense and I wanted one. At the time Trey Ratcliff and others where releasing images further cementing my resolve, this is where the rubber left the road, Sony could inovate, Sony could build, but Sony could not supply the lenses I wanted, for months I touched and pawed a NEX-7 telling the salesman if he could get me the list of Sony NEX lenses I wanted, I would purchase immediately, the lenses never came, the money never left my account, Sony South Africa continued to make promises. Since then Sonyalpharumors has been a twice daily destination, sometimes more, since then Sony has pulled out of South Africa, they keep inovating, they keep building, and I still can't purchase.....I must be the one of the strangest customer demographics, those who are sold but cannot buy yet remain interested.

*correction - the EVF, not optical viewfinder of the HS10/20

In 2008 I've wrote that SONY photo system has nothing at all to attract users from antoher systems... Then they became the most innovative company in photo industry and I've moved to SONY myself (from Pentax and Nikon). Right now I have 3rd SONY camera (A55->A77->A77-2) and I must say I am sompletely happy with my camera, it's capabilities are endless.

With the new A7r-2 that can autofocus fast with native EF mount lnses, A mount lenses, Canon EF lenses and Nikon lenses, while giving great IQ, SONY is THE most attractive system of all! 

That was done in just 7 years, it is really impressive. No other photo system had such an explosive develpment ever!