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.