In an exclusive interview AP talks to Sony's deputy president of digital imaging, Toru Katsumoto and senior marketing manager, Tetsuya Numata, about the company's launch of the world's first full-frame SLT, the Alpha 99
Q. First question, why has it taken so long?
A. When we invented the translucent mirror technology we focused on the technology to get the best performance for digital imaging. To that end we made the Alpha 77 first and then progressed to full frame. It needed a lot of development for the bigger translucent mirror itself. The dual autofocusing system using the two phase-detection focus detectors was also one of the key technologies we wanted to achieve for the Alpha 99 and it took a massive effort to do these things.
Q. Are you nervous about how a full-frame SLT will fare in the market? Do you think the higher-end user will adapt to it?
A. We know many people still love the conventional DSLR with its moving mirror but the SLT has many advantages such as the continuous autofocus system and the EVF [electronic viewfinder]. Many people love an OVF [optical viewfinder] especially for full-frame products but we believe an EVF is better. We're looking forward to hearing the editorial reaction to this product.
Q. You decided to stick with a resolution of 24-million-pixels, is this now enough for users?
A. We think the balance between the pixel count and the sensitivities, plus the speed of reading from the image sensor is very important, especially for movies. So, with the technology we have in 2012, this sensor has the best balance of resolution, sensitivity and video functionality. If we had gone up to 36 million pixels we couldn't do 60p video or produce the same sensitivity levels. When the technology improves we can increase the pixels.
Q. This camera [Alpha 99] is obviously pitched against semi-professional models such as the Canon EOS 5D and Nikon D800, do you think Sony will go to the next stage and go for a top professional-level camera?
A. It is a possibility. We work closely with Sony's professional group and have already made the FS900 professional video recorders. We have to see what the marketing [department] requests of us, and what kind of camera is needed as a priority. Many broadcasting companies and cinema people have been asking for a stills camera with DSLR styling plus video functionality for professional use.
Q. The Minolta hotshoe was claimed to be the strongest and best on the market, so why have you changed for a standard ISO hotshoe?
A. Of course, the Minolta hotshoe was very attractive with the quick attach and remove functions. However, people have been requesting standard ISO shoe accessories with the Alpha and NEX models, and even Cyber-shot cameras. For instance, on the new RX1 we have a standard ISO shoe with additional contacts so we can attach standard ISO shoe accessories, as well as more advanced Sony accessories. We would like to sell more, and on the customer side they now have the chance to both types of accessory.
Q. Is the AF system quick enough for tracking and is it as fast as the Nikon and Canon pro systems?
A. Together with the independent phase-detection sensor, we can do quick autofocus. We can also set the limit of the focus zone [using the AF range], which is very new to this kind of camera, and very convenient.
Q. The A99 features dual SD slots, why was the XQD memory card not used?
A. The XQD consumes a lot of power. It is very quick but, in terms of consumer benefits, we felt the SD and memory stick were better options as they are less power hungry.
Q. Who do you think will use the AF range mode? Is it mainly for professionals?
A. Not particularly. Although it will appeal to professionals, we think everyone can see its value.
Q. Was there a reason why Wi-Fi doesn't feature on the Alpha 99?
A. Wi-Fi will be good for all cameras, but for us it made more sense to start with the NEX.
Q. Do you think the RX1 could eventually be redesigned as an interchangeable lens camera?
A. It is a possibility, I think. For the RX1, though, we wanted to make it as small as possible, which was why we used a fixed lens.
Q. Do you see the RX1 as a ‘statement' product to show what is possible or do you think it will have high sales?
A. This is not a mass-market product. We are trying to appeal to people who need high picture quality, and understand the value in this product with regard to this. In that respect, we expect to target the professional looking for a second camera or the high-end amateur customer.
Q. With there be any lens adapters for the RX1, such as a wideangle or telephoto adapter?
A. Possibly, though at the moment there are no plans for this. The camera does feature the custom button, the smart zoom function, and as it has 24-million-pixels so there is enough resolution to zoom in.