Avoiding the Siren's Song
|Sony α77 with 16-50mm f/2.8 zoom|
Once he hears to his heart's content, sails on, a wiser man.In the midst of earthquakes, eminent hurricane disaster, the fall of Libya's Kadafi (Gadhafi?) and the resignation of Jobs, comes news of a mega-product release from Sony which includes the Sony α77.
Homer, "The Odyssey"
As is all too typical for such things, the Internets are awash with gushing superlatives about the camera, the new lens, and in particular the brand-spanking new 24.3 megapickles APS-C sensor. I will be taking a contrarian view of this release, so that this post will not fall into the gushing group.
As a current Olympus user, I can't help but feel the siren's call of this camera with its sensor that is twice the resolution of the current Olympus 4/3rds sensors and has 40% greater areal space. And then there's the magnesium-built body's environmental (dust and moisture) sealing and the new Sony DT 16-50mm constant f/2.8 with the same environmental sealing. Add the sensor-based image stabilization and dust-busting sensor shake, and on "paper" the Sony α77 makes a for a powerful replacement for both the Olympus E-3 and the E-5.
But that's at first blush. Digging deeper and reading many of the pre-release reviews, I came across the Imaging Resource's review and this particular paragraph:
From what we can tell, there is no strategy for keeping dust off the translucent mirror, except to blow the surface gently with air; it cannot be cleaned, and should never be touched. A fingerprint would require replacement at a service center.This is what I was afraid might be delivered. What use is an environmentally sealed body and lens when, by removing the lens and violating the totally sealed system, something happens to fall on the pellicle mirror that requires a trip to the service center? The Sony α77, at a suggested MSRP of $1,400 body only, is a bit too rich to have to send to a service center due to a wayward fingerprint, or any other contaminant that might wind up on the pellicle mirror. It may be that there's no danger, that this is a red herring, a false alarm. And then again, maybe not.
The pellicle mirror violates a basic rule of simplification by permanently affixing a critically vulnerable optical element in the light path between the lens and the sensor. Mirrorless systems get rid of the mirror. Future mirrorless systems may even eliminate the mechanical shutter. But the Sony design, while brilliant in so many ways, has what I consider a fatal design flaw, the fixed pellicle.
I live and work outdoors in a messy environment. That's why I have an E-1 and an E-3. Most of the time I fix a lens on the body and just leave it that way until I'm finished, never changing the lens until I'm back indoors. But there are times when I have to swap a lens, such as the 50mm macro onto one of the bodies. More often than not that's "out in the wild." I have the ability to carefully clean sensors and mirrors of something falls on them. I would be extremely annoyed if something inadvertently splashed on a pellicle requiring a clean and fix at a repair depot.
In a way I wish the NEX-7, with the same sensor and EVF as the Sony α77, were also weather sealed. Then I might consider replacing both regular and µ4/3rds bodies and lenses with the NEX-7 and equivalent E-mount weather sealed lenses (assuming such were to be ever released).
It's a tough old world. Sony's pellicle design is meant to provide blazing fast and accurate phase-detect autofocus, both in stills and video. On paper it looks wonderful. But Panasonic and Sony have also shown that you can now have blazing fast and accurate contrast-detect autofocus without having anything in the light path, not even a pellicle mirror. I consider the Panasonic and Olympus a better engineering solution than Sony's, but that's not the complete story. It never is.
The best course of action for me is to continue to use what I've got and bide my time. I can afford to wait. I have heard the Sony α77's song to my heart's content and move on a wiser man.
Update 30 August
Came across this image on another site. Although it's a photo of the focus select dial, you can see into the mirror box, and see that there's no cover over the mirror.