August 29, 2021

Alphatracks

Sony and Minolta SLR Weblog

The Sony EVF Alphas: a closer look

Looking for clues offered by the exciting mirrorless concept cameras from Sony. Are they a great addition to the Sony Alpha line or are they just plain EVIL?

Cute, but where is the hot shoe? There is no optical viewfinder on this Sony Alpha concept, will the LCD "viewfinder" be up to bright sunlight?
Cute, but where is the hot shoe? There is no optical viewfinder on this Sony Alpha concept, will the LCD "viewfinder" be up to bright sunlight?

Probably the most controversial Sony PMA offering is the “mirroless” interchangeable lens camera. Many people are really excited about the mockups, while others are less than enthusiastic about them. Me?  I am squarely in the middle.

I am a huge SLR enthusiast, and I have yet to look through a electronic view finder (EVF) that approached the quality of a typical optical viewfinder. So, right off the bat, I am not a part of the target market for these new cameras, which many people have nick-named EVIL, after the EVF.

On the other hand, I am sure Sony must have done sufficient studies to justify creating this new line. If creating a new line of cameras helps drive bigger and better things from Sony’s photographic division, then I am all for it. There has been an incredible amount of interest in the EVF mock-ups, so if Sony brings them to market at the right price and feature set, they could be a true game changer.

It has been widely reported that the EVF models will have a APS-C size sensor. This is the same size as most of the Alpha dSLRs, and should yield very good image quality.

I am still concerned that the EVF cameras will apparently bear the Alpha brand. If the new cameras accept Alpha lenses, then this is a no brainer. If in fact, the new mini Alphas use a different lens mount, I think that is a problem.

Currently, with a few rare exceptions, all Sony Alphas can use the same lenses and accessories. The DT (APS-C coverage) lenses are not designed to cover the full-frame sensor on the premier A900 and A850. But Sony has made a provision so users can use these lenses on the full-frame models; you won’t get full frame coverage or the entire megapixel count, but the lenses are usable.

If the new cameras use an entirely different mount, then Sony will be developing two separate interchangeable lens lines. Again, if that drives the Alpha brand forward, then well and good. I worry however, that resources needed to expand the Sony dSLR line will be diverted to the new electronic viewfinder models.

In addition, a separate lens line creates a barrier wall between the two camera lines. If the new EVF cameras use the A-mount, then this is a excellent buyer retention strategy. New users may start with the EVF model. When they are ready to move up to a camera with more features, they will look for a dSLR. If the lenses and accessories carry over, this is a great way to encourage users to choose a Sony Alpha.

If the lens mounts differ, however, there is a barrier wall in place. If some one has a large selection of Sony Alpha EVF lenses, moving to the dSLR model is problematic. Do you simply expand your EVF system or dump everything and start from scratch?

If you do start from scratch, then there is no need to stick with the Sony Alpha. Since nothing carries over, you are free to choose any dSLR system you want. There might be some brand loyalty that keeps users in the Alpha camp, but unlike owning a quiver of A-mount lenses, there is no physical reason to remain with Sony.

The barrier wall works both ways. I have no interest in adding another system to my existing A-mount collection. It is difficult enough to stay current on the entire Alpha dSLR system without adding a whole new collection of cameras, lenses and accessories.

If however, I could leverage my current lens line with one of these EVF cams, I might consider it. I could keep one in the glove compartment so I would always have a quality camera handy. I could pack a small bag with some of my existing lenses for nature hikes. This is only mildly attractive for me me, however, if my current lenses work with the new cameras. If the A-Mount lenses don’t fit, there is no compelling reason for me to consider one of these cameras. I could achieve most of the benefits from a smaller point and shoot. No, I wouldn’t have the option of using interchangeable lenses, but if I want lens variety I will just haul out one of my Alpha dSLRs. Case closed.

If you look at the mockup photo, the lens mount doesn’t appear to be an Alpha mount. It is possible, since this is a mockup, that the actual camera might sport a different mount. But I’m not sure there is enough physical room to attach a typical A-mount lens to that mount. In addition, the sensor is probably to close to rear element for an A-mount lens to focus correctly. So I am guessing that the best we can hope for is a lens adapter that will allow A-mount optics to work on the EVF cameras.

Interestingly enough, there are no electrical contacts visible in the photos. To offer the auto focus and auto exposure capabilities that we have come to expect in a digital camera, there has to be a way for the camera to talk to the lens. So either the mount is unfinished on the mockups or Sony has a new way to pass information from camera to lens.

There does not seem to be sufficient room for an A-mount lens to protrude inside the mount. What are those two openings on either side of what is probably the pop up flash on the top panel?
There does not seem to be sufficient room for an normal A-mount lens to protrude inside the mount. There are no contacts on this concept, how will the lens communicate with the camera? Meanwhile, what are those two mysterious openings on either side of what is probably the pop up flash on the top panel?

I have some other concerns about the EVF cameras. For one, I don’t see a hot shoe or a PC sync port. Hopefully, because these are just concepts, Sony will rectify this omission before the real things ship.

There is a large rectangular cover on the top of the camera, which I assume houses a popup flash. Without a hot shoe or sync port, however, there is no way to use off camera flash. After preaching about the benefits of off camera flash for years, I’m not ready to buy into a system that forces you to use the popup flash or nothing.

Frankly I am more than a little puzzled by the lack of a hot shoe. I have to believe there is a need for a flash that can be bounced, swiveled or located away from the camera. By including an Alpha style hot shoe, Sony could expand the market for their current flash units and flash accessories. They wouldn’t have to develop a new flash unit, as the current Alpha flash system would work on the EVF models. If and when these buyers move up to a dSLR, these flash components could create buyer retention.

“Hmm. I already have a flash and remote cord that fits the Sony Alpha. If I buy some other brand I will need to buy a new flash unit. Guess I’ll stick with Sony.”

So to me, an Alpha hot shoe is a no brainer. I did notice there are two dimples on either side of the alleged popup flash. I have no clue what purpose they serve. Perhaps Sony intends to develop some sort of clip-on external flash shoe that attaches to these openings?

I am also concerned about the lack of external controls on the mockups. If this is the final design, that will mean all controls are accessed by LCD menus. I could live with that, provided the LCD can be viewed in bright sunlight. Most LCDs are useless in full sun, although some manufacturers claim to have eliminated this problem. If the EVF models need to be controlled almost entirely by menu, then we Sony needs to include a screen that can be read at noon on a hot July day.

I not trying to pan the EVF Alphas or suggest that Sony should abandon the idea of a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. I’m sure they will sell well.

As shown, however, they are not a real replacement for a dSLR. Give us a proper A-mount, an Alpha hot shoe and a LCD menu that can be read in bright sunlight and then we’ll talk. Otherwise, they might just be EVIL at that.