Monday, August 26, 2013

the ever so interesting α3000

Sony α3000 with E-mount 18-55mm kit zoom (via 1001 noisy cameras)
So Sony finally went and did it. They took the basic components of the NEX line (the E mount, the sensor, the mirrorless box, and the EVF), added them to a DSLR-alike body, and bundled it with an existing E-mount 18-55mm kit lens for the shockingly low, low price of $400. A price you don't normally see on a mirrorless camera unless its been out for 6-12 months and then put on a fire sale.

This is Sony's way of telling Canon's Rebel and Nikon's D3x00 class entry level DSLR cameras to go and take a hike. I have heard all the critics harp about how the E-mount lenses were too large for the NEX bodies, how using their APS-C sensor somehow doomed the highly innovative NEX cameras to a lingering death. And all those reports reporting how mirrorless was doomed in general.

I guess Sony decided if you can't beat them, join them. They took their box of NEX parts, mixed in a DSLR design body, and voilà! A highly affordable faux DSLR look-alike with key critical technologies, such as the hybrid focus sensor supporting phase detect as well as contrast detect auto focus, allowing for reasonably fast and accurate low light focus capture, as well as a respectable 20.1 MP resolution sensor, sitting it in between Canon (18MP) and Nikon (24MP). Yes, Nikon has a little more. But no-one will be able to tell the difference, especially the market group at which this particular camera is aimed at.

What Sony has produced is one of the world's smallest DSLR-alike cameras, profoundly challenging even the Canon 100D in size as well as every µ4:3rds DSLR-like camera from Panasonic (primarily) and Olympus, and even Samsung. What Sony has produced shows the true strength of mirrorless, particularly in new designs. The price of this kit system is remarkably low because it has none of the mirror and pentamirror crap that Canon and Nikon put in their entry-level DSLRs. Instead of looking down a small, dark tunnel with Canon and Nikon you can look into a bright EVF with the Sony, which is going to make a lot of new owners happy. What's more, you'll see a full 100% because you'll see what the sensor is seeing. With Canon and Nikon, the view is truncated (usually around 95%), which for a small sensor is a waste. Yes, seeing 100% truly matters.

I have a feeling that this is Sony's direction now with entry-level DSLR-alike cameras. The A-mount entry levels will go the way of all flesh, with the E-mount being used to fill those slots. The A-mount will evolve on its own (probably dropping the mirror and pentaprism as well) and be repositioned as the high-end enthusiast to professional offerings. It would make a lot more product sense if APS-C were the complete domain of NEX cameras, while A-mount (a.k.a. Minolta) would evolve back to essentially its roots as a 135mm (a.k.a. "full frame 35mm") digital system. And I could see Sony producing a low-end 135mm sensor A-mount system to slot where the α77 currently sits, say for around $1,500, body only. Wouldn't that tie a knot in Canon's and Nikon's fanny? Sony could pull that off if they produced a pure mirrorless solution in A-mount, where the mirror box and pentaprism are replaced with a PDAF sensor and built-in EVF.

It will be interesting to see where Sony goes with this particular line of cameras. Very, very interesting...


  1. Interesting indeed.

    The initial DPreview report looks like Sony left few corners uncut. For an all-electronic SLR-rival the 230k-pixel LCD is unimpressive, and leaving the EVF unspecified isn't reassuring. But it will be very interesting to see how a current sensor in an inexpensively-built camera will sell against better-built cameras from previous generations.

  2. I read the DPreview First Impressions "Review" (quotes mine). Complain as we might at the corners cut, the last paragraph pretty much drives a stake through our arguments:

    Of course, this is the enthusiast perspective. Naturally, a lot of people will look no further than the pricetag. This is a $400 interchangeable lens camera. It has a 20.1MP sensor. It captures 1080 60i movies with built-in stereo mics. Those specs are hard to argue with.

    This isn't a camera for us. It's aimed square at the individual or family on a budget that wants a better camera than can be had with any cellphone or point-and-shoot, a camera that doesn't cost a small fortune to produce great photos. The α3000 is that camera.

  3. This camera, at its compelling $400 price point, may bring some new people into camera stores. That's a very, very good thing. And it was the amazing and revolutionary Digital Rebel breaking the $1000 barrier (USD, body only) that first made me seriously consider the possibility of buying a "good" camera – a true story, but not one that I tell very often.

    Where I am a Nikon D3200 kit – better sensor, better LCD, better build – is already selling for under $500 for people who know where to shop. The D3100 is under $400. It is absolutely amazing to have a new mirrorless camera come in below the closeout price for a Canon G15, but the a3000 does have direct competition.

    Going back to my Digital Rebel experience: I handled the camera in the store for just a few minutes before putting it down. I simply wasn't happy with its small grip and built-to-a-price quality. I eventually ended up with the Sony F828, which was an equally expensive camera, but felt so much better to use.

  4. Your comments spark some interesting thoughts.

    This camera, at its compelling $400 price point, may bring some new people into camera stores.

    I'm curious to know how Sony sells its various cameras; online (Amazon, for example), mass marketing (Walmart, for example), and camera stores such as yours. It may be that this camera is aimed at on-line and mass marketing. Because as you point out further on down, you can pick up a Nikon D3200 (or even the D3100 on heavy discount even more) if you know where to shop. I could see the α3000 being sold in a lot of Walmarts with the right kind of marketing effort.

    Going back to my Digital Rebel experience: I handled the camera in the store for just a few minutes before putting it down. I simply wasn't happy...

    Which brings up another story, this time about Texas Instrument (TI) in the mid to late 1970s and their scientific calculators, culminating in the TI-59. Then TI started to release variations on the TI 5x series, where they electronics got reduced to a single chip, a cheap keyboard, and the display. They literally hollowed the calculator out to an empty box where the keyboard, display, and single chip (glued to the back of the keyboard) snapped into the top half of the body, and the bottom snapped in place. It was truly cheap feeling, and no-one that I know of who used to buy the earlier versions every bought any of the later versions. Everyone said "as soon as I picked it up, I put it back down. It was so cheap."

    That's the downside of chasing cost reductions by making products cheaper. You hollow out the product (like DPreview commented on the α3000's hollow feeling) to the point where it feels cheap to the target consumer and it damages the brand.


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