Sony is following arch rival, Panasonic, into the DSLR camera market. Just how will these two consumer electronics giants fare?
16th January, 2006: Konica Minolta to quit photo business
Read the Press Release: Konica Minolta and Sony to Develop Digital SLRs Together
And so it's official, Sony is to enter the DSLR arena, though not entirely un-aided. Today, Konica Minolta and Sony have announced they will be working together in developing future DSLRs. Konica Minolta is a customer of Sony, utilising the Sony APS sensor in its Dynax and Maxxum DSLRs, including the D5 launched last week.
Sony has seen its sensors successfully implemented in Konica Minolta's moving sensor anti-shake technology and while Konica Minolta has been late to the DSLR market, it has made a good impression with 7D and, on paper at least, the new 5D deserves success. Details are still not clear, but what is known is that Sony DSLRs will use the same Konica Minolta A-mount interchangeable lens system that has been around since 1985.
Although it has long been rumoured that Sony would enter the DSLR market, it was probably a bit too much to expect it to design its own system from scratch. By providing Sony with a donor platform to build on, Konica Minolta also gets crucial boosts to its own brand and financially.
The DSLR market is booming and has persuaded Sony's arch-rivals, Panasonic, to commit to their own DSLR. The difference is that Panasonic will use the Four Thirds platform developed by Olympus. This uses a slightly smaller sensor than the APS-type used in all the other consumer DSLRs.
Comparing Sony and Panasonic
Comparing the two initiatives is irresistible. Here are two goliaths of the consumer electronics world making taking on the traditional camera marques like Nikon, Pentax and Canon. Both Sony and Panasonic are partnered with famous German optics legends, Carl Zeiss and Leica, respectively. Both Sony and Panasonic have chosen to build on the foundations created by established camera manufacturers, though at this point the differences start to show.
Sony has chosen the tried and tested 20 year old A-mount system developed by Minolta and, latterly, Konica Minolta. Panasonic has taken the much more risky approach in choosing the very new and more advanced Four Thirds platform, designed from the start for digital photography. Both Sony and Panasonic are imaging sensor manufacturers, though Sony has more experience in the larger format sensors for DSLRs and dominates the supply in this sector if you disregard Canon, the DSLR market leader, which makes its own DSLR sensors.
Panasonic is also an accomplished lens manufacturer in its own right – I have seen this for myself having visited Panasonic's Yamagata plant, which makes aspheric lens elements, last month. Panasonic also has impressive optical image stabilisation technology, though unlike the Konica Minolta moving sensor system, it is designed to be implemented within the lens. Konica Minolta's anti-shake system will work with any lens attached to the camera.
What DSLR impact will Sony and Panasonic have?
So where will the might of Panasonic and Sony lead the DSLR camera market? Canon is enjoying unprecedented market dominance at present, though it could be said that they have the most to lose. Nikon has done very well with the D70 in the last 18 months or so, but some industry watchers are not convinced that Nikon is out of the woods yet as other areas of Nikon's business are effectively being sustained by its DSLR profitability. Olympus is struggling after a disastrous 2004 when the company manufactured around a million more cameras than it could sell. Critics also say that Olympus needs newer and better DSLRs if it is to be competitive in the DSLR game.
Much to prove
Sony, itself, is a company that is struggling in many ways. From a general corporate standpoint, the company has made some strategic mistakes in recent years and tough competition from up and coming rivals, like Samsung, has hit hard. From the camera division, we've had a lemon or two from Sony, most notably the DSC F-828. This was a brave, even admirable, attempt to woo more serious photographers, but the sum of its impressive parts was a huge disappointment, so Sony has much to prove with its new DSLR.
Give us your view
What do you think, will Sony succeed or is it on a hiding to nothing? Tell us your views and we'll publish selected responses in a follow up to this news story.