Opinion: Sony Needs to Innovate Again If They Want to Remain Top Dog

Sony has been blazing a trail ever since it purchased Minolta, but needs to change a few things if it wants to stay ahead of the pack.

Back in 2006, when Sony purchased Minolta, we weren’t sure what Sony would bring to the table. They had dabbled with point and shoot Cyber Shot cameras, but moving into the camera market proper was a big step, and many wondered if Sony would be able to make the move successfully. Sony showed us exactly what they could do, and the rest is history. Since that time, Sony has rarely had to look over its shoulder, but now, Canon, Nikon, and others are waking up and are getting closer one again. Sony seems to have reached peak camera, so if it want to widen that gap once again, it will need to dig deep and innovate as it did at the start of the Mirrorless age. After the break, we’ll take a quick look at what Sony needs to do to keep moving forward.

Sony started innovating back when DSLR cameras were still king. They introduced revolutionary autofocus systems, IBIS, translucent mirrors, and implemented electronic viewfinders. At the start, the new technology didn’t quite work as smoothly as it does today, but Sony laid its foundation and built a massive house on it.

Today we sit here with cameras like the budget-friendly, Full-Frame a7 III, which is adored by many. Then we have the high-resolution Sony a7r IV, the low light monster a7s II, and the sports-oriented Sony A9 II, all of which feature IBIS and the best autofocus systems around. There are also cameras like the APS-C a6100, which makes jumping into Mirrorless cameras affordable. The problem, though, is that Sony has thrown all its innovative technology into all its cameras in a very short period, and now it seems that Sony has reached peak-camera. This means the rest of the pack can start playing catch up. So what does Sony need to do to make sure they continue leading the pack? Let’s find out.

“Sony, you need to innovate more when it comes to your glass. Flesh out the E mount library and stop over-relying on third parties to fill in the blanks.”

It’s All About the Glass

Sony has done a marvelous job of building up its camera library, and though it has taken a while, the Sony E mount catalog is getting there too. The E mount was introduced in 2010; the first Sony camera to use it was NEX 3. Since then we have been graced with 34 Sony E mount lenses, so there are plenty of lenses to choose from. And there are many third party options out there too, but Sony needs to start bringing it home when it comes to pro-grade gear. It speaks volumes that Canon, a latecomer to the Mirrorless party, already has lenses on their still relatively new RF platform that can make any photographer weak at the knees.

GM lenses are great. We generally love them, and they usually review well. They have sharp optics, great AF motors, produce nice colors, and are built well, but where’s the really fast glass, Sony? Where’s the really wide glass? To keep ahead of the pack you need first-party glass that fills every niche out there.

The Sony 20mm f1.8 G is the widest Sony lens on the platform.

We need more G and G Master ultra-wides. The current widest lens on the platform is the newly released 20mm F1.8 G. It’s a great lens but Sony needs wider primes that cater to landscape photographers, pastor photographers, and architectural and real-estate photographers. We need primes with apertures faster than f1.4 for portrait photographers. Sony users have been begging for lenses like the RF 50mm f1.2, and the 85mm f1.2 for ages. They are still waiting. Sony also needs to work on releasing more APS-C specific lenses. Yes, there are some new lenses on the market now like the 70-350mm f4.5-6.3 and the 16-55mm f2.8, but in all honesty, these should have been released eons ago. Sony may have reached peak camera, but there is still a long way to go when it comes to lenses. Sony, you need to innovate more when it comes to your glass. Flesh out the E mount library and stop over-relying on third parties to fill in the blanks.

“The a7s line really set Sony apart from the pack, and it represented Sony innovating on levels that others could only dream about. But it seems like the a7s series has been all but forgotten about.”

Refresh the a6XXX line, and Hit It Out of the Park with the A7 IV and the a7s III

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Let’s be honest here. Sony, you’ve been pretty darn lazy when it comes to your APS-C camera offerings. The design of the a6XXX line hasn’t changed since its inception (apart from an ever-so slightly bigger grip). The cameras are still small, quite uncomfortable to hold, the button layout is cramped, the EVF and LCD screens are below par, and you’re still chucking the same old 24 Megapixel sensor in them. Yes, you have done great things with them like adding in IBIS (a6500, a6600), adding in a little weather sealing (a6400, a6500, and a6600), they have great 4K video output, and the autofocus systems are class-leading in your latest a6100, a6400 and a6600 cameras, but they deserve more love.

This line of cameras needs a serious upgrade. It needs to be re-designed from the ground up with better ergonomics and better controls. Add a joystick to them for a better overall experience while using them. It’s really time for a sensor update too. Sony, Canon trounced you by using a new 32-megapixel APS-C sensor in their M6 II and 90D, so its time to up your game as well. It feels like you’re resting on your laurels a little. Fujifilm has already surpassed you with their APS-C offerings, and soon Canon and Nikon will run laps around you too. Be a leader in this space again, and innovate by adding features no other APS-C cameras have.

Where the Heck Is the a7s III?

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The Sony a7s series of cameras became legendary for their capability to practically see in the dark thanks to their insane high ISO output. Need to shoot at ISO 80,000? Grab the a7s II and go right ahead, you’ve got nothing to worry about. The a7s line really set Sony apart from the pack, and it represented Sony innovating on levels others could only dream about, but it seems like that series has been all but forgotten about.

There’s speculation everywhere that the a7s III will be coming out, but nothing has materialized. We’ve seen third and fourth generations of the a7 and a7r lines, but nothing when it comes to the S series. It’s time to release the Kraken, Sony. Release the a7s III with feature sets that have never been seen before. Our EIC, Chris Gampat, recently described what he’d like to see in the a7s III, and honestly, the next variant of this camera needs all of the features he mentions and more. Show us what you’ve got, Sony. Break the molds when it comes to camera tech, get us excited about what you can do again; don’t just release an incremental update.

The Sony a74 Needs to Redefine Entry-Level Full-Frame Cameras Once Again

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To say Sony redefined the Full Frame camera market with the a7 III is an understatement. Before the a7 line of cameras was launched, Full-Frame cameras were out of reach from a financial aspect for many photographers, all of this changed with the a7 III, though. The a7 III was a feature-packed camera that put other Full-Frame cameras that cost almost twice as much to shame. This is the camera that made people jump from Canon and Nikon, and it’s the camera that scooped up countless new photographers too.

Times have changed though, and now Sony has more competition in this arena than ever before. The Nikon Z6, the Canon EOS R, and the Panasonic S1 are all gunning for you, and while these cameras might not be quite up to par, it’s just a matter of time before the next versions of these cameras surpass you. You might find that Panasonic will be your biggest threat with an entry-level Full-Frame Lumix S camera, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Canon and Nikon are just getting started.

So, what does this mean? It means the a7 IV needs to be something special. Sony, you need to redefine entry-level just like you did before. Does this mean bigger sensors, more AI tech, faster burst rates, better weather sealing, more connectivity options? Who knows. The ball is in your court for now but that could easily change. Put that thinking cap back on, and innovate like you used to.

“If a user interface has to be explained, it’s a bad user interface, and Sony, no amount of explaining can help this menu system. ”

For the Love of All Things, Sony Please Redesign the Menus and Make Them Touch Compatible

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Sony, why are we still using a menu system that was designed in 1986 on a Commodore 64? The menus found in the current Sony Alpha cameras are horrendous. They’re not quite as bad as those found in Olympus cameras, but they aren’t far off. Sony menus are messy, hard to navigate, make little logical sense, and why the heck aren’t they touchscreen compatible? Why is this so hard for you to implement?

I reviewed Sony’s a6100 not long ago, and seeing as it is aimed at being an entry-level camera for a first-time owner I let a friend who was thinking about buying one use it for a while. The first time they went into the menus I thought they were going to have a stroke. If a user interface has to be explained, it’s a bad user interface, and Sony, no amount of explaining can help this menu system.

Sony, refresh the menus, make them easier to read, lay them out in a more logical order, give us the ability to hide the video menus if we’re photographers, or hide the photography menu’s if we’re videographers. Hire some UX designers who graduated from college within the past two years and let them update everything. And make it touchscreen compatible. What a waste of technology otherwise.

Sony, you’re currently still leading the race overall, but the rest of the pack is gaining at an alarming rate. If you rest on your laurels, we saw what happened with Nikon and Canon when they thought there were at the top. Start innovating again, bring new technology to the forefront, and give people reasons to stay with you, because, wow, those shiny new cameras and lenses from Canon et al. sure sound nice. What do you want to see from Sony going forward? Let us know in the comment section below.