March 1, 2021

Alphatracks

Sony and Minolta SLR Weblog

Future Sony dSLRs: which new Alpha will reach market first?

Ok, which of the future Sony dSLR cameras are we likely to see in stores first? The original word was that one camera would be released in 2007, the other in early 2008. Nothing definite, though and this has led to intense speculation about the prototypes.

Sony hasn’t said which of the future dSLRs will be released first. A number of people seem to assume that the Advanced Amateur model will show up first — for no other reason then they just figure that is the natural way to go about things. It does seem fairly plausible. But don’t forget that much of Sony’s dSLR division is made up of old Minolta employees. Minolta had their own ideas of how to manage camera releases.

Minolta always released the higher end model first. Always

It started with the fabled XE-7 in 1975. They released the camera to great acclaim. About a year later they followed that up with the less-expensive, less-full featured XE-5. The X-700 was the first out of the gate, and was followed up by several lesser models. Minolta’s first A-mount, auto focus SLR? The Maxxum 7000, of course, followed later by the 5000 and a collection of 7000 wannabes. With the i series, Minolta changed things up a little, releasing the 7000i, then the 5000i and then the top-of the line 9000i. This would establish a new 5-7-9 pattern for Minolta.

When the company moved to digital, they offered the Dimage 5 and 7 simultaneously, so both the high-end and the low-end were available at the same time. When Konica-Minolta brought out their first A-mount dSLR, which came first? Of course, the Maxxum 7D. The 5D appeared a year later. So the Minolta pattern is firmly established.

This makes it’s own kind of sense. If you release a mid-range model and tell everyone a better model is coming soon, many buyers may wait for the flagship — spoiling the launch to the mid-range camera. At the same time, the instant gratification of buying a new camera may cause customers who would have bought the flagship to purchase the mid-range model because they just couldn’t wait any longer. By the time the flagship comes out they’ve already spent a chunk of cash on the less-expensive model. Some of these photographers will upgrade — but many who might have bought the flagship, had it been available, will stick with their mid-range model either because they are happy with it or they’ve already spent their disposable income on the camera they have.

On the other hand, if the flagship should appear first, the well-healed and those who have been waiting for an upgraded Maxxum 7D may jump on board because they don’t want to wait any longer. The rest who can’t afford the price-tag on the flagship will eagerly await the lower cost Advanced Amateur Alpha. If the Flagship is expensive enough, it could make the AA version look like a real bargain.

Will Sony let Nikon steal their thunder?

The above is pure speculation, of course. But there is another thing to consider. Bragging rights.

Unless you are so into Sony and Minolta SLRs that you don’t pay attention to anything else in the industry, you’ve probably heard the rumors that Nikon is planning it’s first full-frame dSLR. Again there is a lot of smoke and mirrors going on, but there is a strong consensus that Nikon will produce a 1.1 crop, 18mp model before the end of the year.

While Sony might surprise everyone by coming up with a dedicated sensor for the flagship model, it seems likely that — just as with the Alpha A100 — Sony will offer their newest sensor technology to other manufacturers. As Sony supplies all Nikon dSLR sensors, it would be even more likely that they will make the sensor for the new Nikon as well.

It doesn’t take a degree in supply-side economics to figure out that the Sony Flagship and the new Nikon will most likely share the same sensor. It allows Sony to make the sensor more cheaply and shaves design and development costs. There may be some differences, but unless Sony grows incredibly proprietary about the new flagship’s sensor, they will supply the same chip to Nikon and anyone else who wants to build a dSLR around it.

If Sony or Nikon announce a 18mp (we don’t know to will be 18mp, but that is what the rumor-mill is claiming) full frame or 1.1 crop camera it will be news. Really, really big news. If however, Nikon comes out with their new iron in 2007 and Sony waits until 2008 it could make the Alpha camera look like a “me-too” effort.

Thus if Sony turns the flagship loose in 2007 it will seem truly amazing — especially if the rumored specs are anywhere close to being true. If they wait until 2008, however, the camera, while still exciting, will seem like “just another 18mp dSLR — Nikon’s had a similar model on the market for almost a year now.”

Will Sony really let Nikon grab the attention of a huge sensor and near full frame crop factor? Only Sony knows, but my guess is that there a fighting chance the flagship might just be first in Sony’s batting order.