AP editor Nigel Atherton chats to Kenji Tanaka, Senior General Manager of Sony's Digital Imaging Business group, to find out more about the company's plans and how it's facing down some serious competition in the mirrorless market
AP: Until this year’s Photokina Sony had the full-frame mirrorless market to itself. Now there’s Nikon, Canon, and, shortly, Panasonic and the L-Mount Alliance. Why should Sony still be the best choice for someone looking to buy full-frame mirrorless?
Mr Tanaka: Thinking about the future of the camera, I think that mirrorless has so many advantages over the DSLR – speed, vibration, image quality – that it’s natural that every competitor would eventually go mirrorless.
AP What are your initial thoughts about the Canon, Nikon and Panasonic systems? For example Nikon says that its larger lens mount means it can produce faster, wider-aperture lenses. What’s your response to that?
Mr Tanaka: The diameter of lens doesn’t matter. Honestly speaking it is very difficult to create a small size mount. But the quality of our new 400mm f/2.8 is better than the competitors. That means the diameter of the mount is not critical for our foremost lenses.
AP Could you produce an f/1.0 lens?
Mr Tanaka: Yes we could, but there is no market demand. Maybe some demand exists for an f/1.2, but an f/1.0? Technically we could produce an f/1.0, but it would not make business sense.
AP Do you have any other thoughts about the Nikon and Canon systems in particular, having seen their initial products?
Mr Tanaka: The ILC (interchangeable lens) market is decreasing, globally. Fortunately, Sony’s ILC business is increasing. The point is how to stop the overall decrease, and increase the market? That Canon, Nikon and Panasonic have joined the same market is a very good thing. Comparing their cameras, I don’t know which camera is better, and I don’t care about that. Just increase the choice and let the customers choose, that’s what will widen the market.
Fortunately for Sony we started in this full-frame mirrorless market five years ago, so we already have a lot of lenses and we have very refined cameras, so we still have a lot of advantages over the competitors right now.
AP: It’s interesting that both Nikon and Panasonic are copying Sony with their low resolution/high resolution, two-models strategy. I presume that’s because this has been very successful for Sony?
Mr Tanaka: As I said I want to increase our industry. At that point of view, somehow Nikon and Panasonic’s strategies are similar to Sony’s. So if we want our industry to grow I would like to see them take another approach and do something different.
AP Will these new competitors have any effect on your plans for next year?
Mr Tanaka: Of course we are planning new models but honestly speaking, I don’t care about competitors. We care about our customer’s voice. A lot of our customers have given us feedback and we will create new products based on that.AP Where do you think the gaps are in the Sony range that you need to focus on? Is it in zoom lenses, telephoto lenses, more fast prime lenses? What is your priority?
Mr Tanaka: We are expanding our range of lenses. At Photokina we announced 12 new ones. That gives our customers more choice, more flexibility. We recently launched the 400mm f/2.8 for sports shooters and we are planning to develop another lens for this segment. Our cameras need to appeal to a broad range of customers, so we need to provide lenses for a wide range of different needs: f/4 zooms, f/2.8 zooms, fast primes.
AP Sony has focused on making very small cameras. Most of the competitor cameras are bigger, and I wonder if that’s because of the criticism that sometimes the Sony cameras are too small. Especially when using bigger lenses. In particular, the distance between the hand grip and the lens is quite narrow so if you’ve got a big lens fitted there isn’t space for your fingers. So is that something you’ll be taking on board?
Mr Tanaka: There are two type of customer. The one is very focused on mobility. They want smaller and more lightweight cameras and that is what we are creating. There is a balance to be struck between the ergonomics and compactness and if that balance isn’t right, we have to adjust. But for customers who prefer bigger cameras, that is not the Sony philosophy, and maybe another product might be better for them.