Sony might not have its mojo in computers anymore, but in cameras, it’s full steam ahead with developments that are all about imaging excellence.
Ever since Sony swallowed up the remains of Konica Minolta, we’ve seen some interesting ideas come out of the hands of the company’s researchers.
Interestingly, Sony has always had a lot of creativity in its cameras — anyone remember the floppy disk-based Mavica? — but when it got its collective paws on great lenses and an understanding of what makes a camera amazing, we’ve seen some tremendous concepts out of the company.
Great sensors. Full-frame cameras. Lenses that act as standalone cameras for smartphones. Compacts that outshine the competition. Sony is certainly making a name for itself as a leader in the optics space, and we’re seeing the results of this constant push in the “Alpha” series of cameras, products denoted by that handy lowercase “α”.
Earlier in the year, Sony showed off its latest take for the category, and even on paper, it was a doozy.
The α6300 is one of the more interesting cameras we’ve seen out of Sony in a while, delivering a staggering 0.05 second auto-focus speed, a 24 megapixel sensor, and the ability to utilise the extent of the sensor for 4K video captured in a Super 35mm sensor, meaning the video size doesn’t get cut down to account for the centre frame, which is much the way 4K capture works on many other cameras.
This means the α6300 should be good not just for photographers, but also videographers, giving filmmakers a large amount of pixels to work with, meaning the imagery they grab has the best potential possible to look as good as it can.
One thing that even throws us is the inclusion of 425 phase detection autofocus points.
This might sound like a bit of jargon, but what it translates to is a focus point in pretty much every section of the screen.
Back when digital SLRs were first coming, this journo asked as a university student why focus points had to be lumped in the centre, which is the way it has been for ages. Fifteen years later, we finally have something that gets that focus points should be everywhere and totally across the frame, and that’s not just good from a focus lock, but handy because it means focus can be kept on objects and scenes with a monumental amount of detail.
In the hands and from our brief play, the α6300 felt better than we expected, and while it was a little more like a rangefinder than a traditional SLR-styled camera, it was comfortable with better ergonomics than we had anticipated.
But camera technology and design is only one part of the equation to make a great system, and Sony knows this, placing a lot of research to build a lens system that can make Sony as professional as long-established players like Canon and Nikon.
For that, the company’s researchers and development team have been using technology to work out what would make the best lenses, simulating sharpness and testing theoretical background blur, with this helping the lens development roll out to something that gets a better image result.
The results speak for themselves, with high quality lenses that look the part and provide lovely images when used properly, with Sony building grade A glass in lens varieties commonly used by photographers, including an f/2.8 24-70mm, a longer f/2.8 70-200mm, and a portrait lens providing 85mm at f/1.4.
One of the managers in charge of the lenses suggests that making sure the lenses are built with an “artistic impression” is one of the things being held in high regard.
“It is really, really difficult to establish this creaminess,” said Sony Imaging’s Yasuyuki Nagata of the bokeh in the lenses.
From our brief play, it’s clear that Sony is keeping the focus on qualities like this, and while the term bokeh might be unknown to you — that soft look that backgrounds get when everything goes all blurry behind subjects — it’s clear Sony is investing a lot of time and money into why good bokeh is so important for a great lens to have.
And that can only be good news for camera owners, especially those interested in seeing how a brand other than the two majors is doing things.