When ePHOTOzine attended the launch of the new NEX range in Croatia, we got an exclusive interview with Toru Katsumoto, Senior General Manager, Imaging Division 3. Also in attendance was Takashi Kondo, General Manager, Marketing Department 3, Corporate Planning & Marketing Division. We asked them about Sony plans for the future and what will happen to the Alpha range.
Is there anything that makes the EXMOR sensor better or more unique than other sensors from other manufacturers?
The launch of the Sony NEX-5 was held in the city of Split, Croatia.
Toru Katsumoto officially introducing the Sony NEX range at the press launch.
Mr Katsumoto: Compared with the last DSLR sensor, this should be better. The sensor is APSHD which means High Definition. With the special technology, we can make better the very low noise and especially for the dark situations, those kind of things. And for the quick operation, 7frames a second, so all those things are possible with this type of sensor.
So the sensor is redesigned from the Alpha series?
Mr Katsumoto: Yes, it's a redesigned sensor.
You've not used a back illuminated sensor, what's the reasoning behind that?
Mr Katsumoto: The back illuminated sensors are designed for the Cyber-shot and Handycam because the sensors are very small and the pixel number is getting more and more so each pixel size is very small. We cannot actually ignore the fact that the pixels are covered by the circuit. With this sensor, the pixel size is very big so you can ignore the circuit.
So there's no plans to bring back illuminated sensors into the range?
Mr Katsumoto: There's no need.
Why is it called back illuminated, is it a phrase Sony coined being a pioneer of the technology?
Mr Katsumoto: Yes, Sony called it back illuminated because the circuit is on the back-side. It looks like it's from the back.
Because it looks like a sensor in reverse?
Mr Katsumoto: Yes.
Sony are really pushing 3D products with displays at PMA, Focus and IFA. With the introduction of 3D panoramic, do you have any plans to challenge Fujifilm with the 3D camera?
Mr Katsumoto: We haven't decided yet, this camera has only one lens to get the 3D motion and makes it easier to get the 3D. So at the moment, we're actually sticking to this kind of lens. It's easier and smaller.
Mr Kondo: The people who buy this type of camera are very interesting because they're only interested in the 3D image, people who are interested in 2D images aren't very interested in the camera. It's a niche market. The beauty of (NEX) is that when the situation fits, you can switch from 2D to 3D or 3D to 2D without sacrificing the size of the body because of the single lens structure. We believe this is the best way to provide 3D to the end user. The danger of 3D is you have to have a 3D television and sales of 3D tv is still very small so under the current situation, I think this is the best solution to the end user to provide 3D.
Where do you think Sony will go in terms of new or innovative features. You've shown us innovation with the panorama sweep and expanded it to the 3D panorama sweep what else do you think can be improved on?
Mr Katsumoto: Do you have any ideas? (laughs)
Give me some time and I'll think of some crazy ideas...
Mr Katsumoto: Our target is to go beyond our eyes so today we made it possible to do 3D panoramic pictures, back-illuminated sensors made it possible to shoot in dark conditions. One by one we're trying to achieve those kinds of things, so today I can't mention exact features.
Looking at features on the bigger DSLRs such as the high ISO performance of the new Nikon cameras, do you think Sony will follow that route and try to get that kind of performance in a smaller camera?
Mr Katsumoto: Some areas of performance like the higher ISO is fundamental to the performance of the camera so it's an area that we pursue always. Not just the ISO, but also the shutter speed, how many shots per second plus 3D and the panorama that kind of enjoyment making it fun to shoot.
This is a camera to challenge the Micro Four Thirds range and Samsung NX system. Panasonic and Olympus seem to have refocused their attention away from DSLR and concentrated on MFT. Is the Alpha range still going to be a prominent area for Sony or will it suffer a similar fate?
Mr Katsumoto: At recent events we showed more A mount products and we are still heavy in developing that range of camera. This camera is aimed at the current DSC (digital still camera) step-up users and DSLR users looking for a second body. Today's A mount Alpha range is targeting creative people that are using the manual settings who want a variety of lenses and other system accessories. We're going to continue to make this high end type of camera on top of the NEX range.
So do you see a higher specification NEX camera coming out?
Mr Katsumoto: That could be possible. After introducing this camera, we will get feedback from customers and we'll see what they say.
When Olympus released the E-P1, they were bringing out many DSLRs and as MFT has grown, the release of new DSLRs appears to have slowed. Given time, if the NEX range takes off, will Alpha still be given prominence then?
Mr Katsumoto: Yes.
Mr Kondo: We don't mean to make the A mount and E mount compete with each other, we developed the A mount and E mount system together as a whole system so we actually avoided the redundancy between the two mounts as much as possible and as a whole system, we want to maximise the selection for the end user.
The difference in size of the lens mounts is only 4mm. Wasn't it possible to try to work the size out so that A mount lenses could fit directly even though the rear lens element to sensor distance is a lot smaller?
Mr Katsumoto: The adapter allows use of all A mount lenses. The E mount distance from lens to sensor is 18mm and it needs to be at 44mm for A mount lenses to be effective. That's why the adapter is the size it is.
At the launch it was mentioned that the adapter for the A mount lenses has compatibility issues such as AF not working. Is that something that's going to be amended in the future?
Mr Katsumoto: Autofocus should be working with the adapter and we have engineers still working very hard. We wanted to prepare a solution for connecting the A mount lenses from the beginning so that's why we released it.
So in time Sony will have a solution for the focusing problem?
Mr Kondo: When it's done maybe we can do it on a firmware upgrade.
Features such as the new defocus mode are brilliant and work well on the camera, but do you think that these ultra easy-to-use modes have a danger of “dumbing down” photography because if they can't learn about how apertures work, they might never learn about it and that could drop people's intelligence of photography down?
Mr Katsumoto: That kind of argument always happens. Look at autofocus and manual focus or anti-shake and no anti-shake. Everybody was saying that manual focus should be the artistic way to take photographs but today the older photographers all comment on the accuracy of autofocus. Technology is always chasing the best way of shooting pictures and of course even with this camera, you can still do it the same way as a DSLR, so the people who like to study about those kinds of things will study.
Mr Kondo: You can compare it to automobiles and whether the introduction of the automatic shift stopped people getting a manual shift. Maybe it did, but the important thing is to get the people to drive the car. We like to expand the market, we like to show the people more of the enjoyment of the DSLR picture quality. Giving the good experience with photography is very important and that's why we like to start from there.
Thank you for your time.