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Past Article Calendar

June 2011
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Wait for the NEX SLT, folks…

That is, the next slot in Sony’s programme of new product releases. Almost exactly five years after the Alpha 100 was launched to the world (also a Wednesday in the second week of June, back in 2006) Sony selected an auspicious date to announce the NEX-C3 and the Alpha A35. But these cameras, rather like the Alpha 100 in its day, are not what we are waiting for.

So – what’s new? 16.2 megapixels, 5.5fps native size, 7fps using a 1.4X crop (about 8 megapixels), no articulated rear screen, some candy functions in the menus for technophobes, and that accessible D-Range button can be made into a rapid custom control.

Everyone has suggested that a NEX-7 will be what they want. I rather think they will be get a NEX-C5, applying the same transforms to the 5 as the C3 (Compact 3) applies to the 3. That means it will have proper HD video, which the C3 lacks being restricted to MPEG4 HD720. Already, the rustle in the undergrowth is that the diminutive C3 misses the mark for this one single reason only. Sure, a 16.2 megapixel sensor (supposedly a new version, not just borrowed from the A55/580) is a welcome upgrade but NEX is a multipurpose system, and HD720 is back in 2006 not in 2011.

Nice mic slots, nice big CZ 16-80mm shown on the adaptor – but this, dear Sony, misses the point. We actually want the CZ 16-80mm to be updated to an SSM design so that it will focus on the NEX, and be better on the Alpha bodies, and so that its slightly manky mechanical design can be turned into something so smooth existing 16-80mm owners queue up to buy the replacement.

Good points – the shift in position of the stereo microphones to the front of the camera, the change to using a separate cover for the memory card instead of having to open the battery compartment. There’s a claim that along with a 20% better battery life, greater heat efficiency means the new cameras won’t cut out before 29 minutes is up when filming HD, even if you use SSS on the A35. Of course the NEX has no SSS but still managed to overheat, at least in the NEX-5, unless you were savvy enough to shift the rear screen away from contact with the camera back – in which case it generally keeps filming OK.

The operating times, startup, focusing speed are all reported to be much improved – by a factor of two or better. Only the image review time is worse due to the larger file size. Sony’s information makes it clear that very strong noise reduction is applied and this may affect raw files as well as JPEGs.

The new 30mm f/3.5 Macro SEL is theoretically interesting, but not so much for me personally as we have already got the 30mm f/2.8 SAM and the NEX adaptor. Eventually, you come to terms with the simple fact that a 2.5cm working distance for 1:1 shots prevents you shooting half the 1:1 shots which present themselves. You disturb the butterfly, hit bits of the plant, or cast the lens’s own shadow across the picture.

The firmware update (see end of story) to provide a ‘focus confirm’ overlay for manual focusing is actually of far more interest to the macro photographer – along with almost any other specification of macro lens except 30mm f/3.5. These lenses are fun, I love the SAM 30mm, but it’s not the answer.

The new HVL-F20S flashgun (based on the HVL-F20AM only in the design of its rotating reflector/diffuser) has changed a load since it was previewed with a mockup based on the Alpha model. Sony has decided to power it from the NEX battery, much as Minolta did with flashguns like the 316i in the early 1990s. That’s almost certainly because the NEX Smart Connector is simply not capable of holding the gun with a couple of AA cells in it, the weight would be too much.

In an ideal world, this new flashgun would do for the NEX system what its orginator does for the Alpha 900 and 850 – act as a remote wireless flash commander. But it does not, leaving NEX outside the main Alpha system still. If you want remote flash (or even just a more powerful flash mounted on a bracket beside your camera) the Nissin Di 866 MkII remains your best bet, programmable to fire correctly in synch with the NEX and to use its own auto-exposure cell for metering.

Alpha 35 – one step forward, two steps back

The Alpha 35 is similarly not earth-shattering news, especially if you own an Alpha 55 with GPS function and rather better overall performance in all respects except (perhaps) ultimate high ISO. The firmware updates for both NEX and SLT models, to be available from June 20th, add most of the benefits of the new models along with some of the child-friendly hipsta stuff. Again, wait until the next round. A higher end SLT camera is firmly promised, it’s been prototyped and mocked up and preproduced and somewhere as I write someone is actually using it.

Losing the articulated rear LCD (see above), not even replacing it with a tilting one, is a big sacrifice. The 7fps 1.4X digital tele conversion mode – with continuous AF tracking – is interesting and reminiscent of the sensor crop mode of Nikon’s first CMOS, the D2X, which was itself developed from a Sony sensor (the Cybershot DSC R-1). It shows that there are genetic traits in the Sony line that won’t be forgotten.

But is there really much point to this camera? Not much. Unlike the NEX-C3 which sees a significant body size reduction and style change, the A35 contrives to be a poor relation of either the A33 or the A55 because it lacks that excellent, reversible, twist and swivel rear screen.

Photoclubalpha has been a photographer’s thing not just a camera owner’s thing – a small difference, these days, but important. For photographers any reason to prefer the new models to what you’ve got may depend on small hidden differences which come to light as people use them. Certainly the provision of functions with changed names because no-one can be expected to understand what an aperture is, what a shutter speed is (and so on) is no reason to want the new models. Probably the reverse!

Video enthusiasts may like to note that the firmware update for the A55/33 allows all the overlaid text to be removed from the live view, which can be output from the HDMI port to surprisingly high quality. Recording devices to accept HDMI signals like this are just starting to appear at affordable prices. There’s some potential to experiment with the image provided for LV (Focus Check Live View more so than Quick AF LV) once fed into other systems free from overlays.

Version 04 firmware update for NEX-5, NEX-3
Available from June 20th, a firmware upgrade for existing NEX-5 and NEX-3 cameras adds the new ‘Picture Effect’ function as introduced on the new NEX‑C3. It also adds a Peaking function to assist with more precise manual focusing. Available free to registered users, latest Version 04 firmware update for NEX-5/NEX-3 can be downloaded from:
NEX-3
Windows:
//support.sonyeurope.com/dime/downloads/downloads.aspx?f=FW_NEX3_V04_WIN&site=odw_en_GB
MAC OS:
//support.sonyeurope.com/dime/downloads/downloads.aspx?f=FW_NEX3_V04_MAC&site=odw_en_GB
NEX-5
Windows:
//support.sonyeurope.com/dime/downloads/downloads.aspx?f=FW_NEX5_V04_WIN&site=odw_en_GB
MAC OS:
//support.sonyeurope.com/dime/downloads/downloads.aspx?f=FW_NEX5_V04_MAC&site=odw_en_GB

Editor’s note June 9th: please note that these URLs will not work – they are incorrectly transcribed by Sony. The URLs should be similar to those for the A33, A55 with a hyphen between sony-europe. Unfortunately, Sony has issued press releases and web pages with the incorrect URLs. We have changed the link so that it will work when the time comes.

Version 2.00 firmware update for α33, α55
Available from June 20th, a firmware upgrade for existing α33 and α55 cameras by Sony adds several creative and operational enhancements. Support for the ‘Picture Effect’ function featured on the new α35 is now offered. High-Speed Synch is supported during wireless operation with a compatible external flash (only α55). Ergonomics are further improved with revised menus and a new mode that lets users switch off shooting parameters overlaid on screen for clear, uncluttered composition. The camera’s Digital Level Gauge can also be displayed when shooting via the optional CLM-V55 external LCD monitor. Frequently used features can now be custom-assigned to the D-RANGE button for rapid, menu-free access.

Available free to registered users, from the 20th of June the latest GB English Version 2.00 firmware update for α33 and α55 can be downloaded from:
A33
Windows:
//support.sony-europe.com/dime/downloads/downloads.aspx?f=FW_A33_V2_WIN&site=odw_en_GB
MAC OS:
//support.sony-europe.com/dime/downloads/downloads.aspx?f=FW_A33_V2_MAC&site=odw_en_GB
A55
Windows:
//support.sony-europe.com/dime/downloads/downloads.aspx?f=FW_A55_V2_WIN&site=odw_en_GB
MAC OS:
//support.sony-europe.com/dime/downloads/downloads.aspx?f=FW_A55_V2_MAC&site=odw_en_GB

6 comments to Wait for the NEX SLT, folks…

  • Atget

    Nice that NEX & SLT users get the firmware to give them the “Picture Effects”, but a560/580 users get nothing. A sign that the OVF is a thing of the past?

  • marcel

    I agree,
    sony are marketing at novices not enthusiasts (well I guess they are a business), hence the rapid replacement of the budget series (sorry, cosmetic replacements, with less features), but nothing in the 700 series.

    2 years ago at Christmas in my shop, we outsold canon SLR’s 2 to one, and Nikon SLR’s 4 to one with the budget Sony units. All because of the automation and simplicity, plus cheap prices. We now sell Sony to the general “snapper” public, and Canon and Nikon to people who want to expand their skills, and systems, NOT Sony.

    Unfortunately, they have now discontinued the a850, because it is too close in price to the a900, with a lower spec “no, really?”

    I was disapointed with Minolta about the D/SLR’s they produced, and never bought one (I still have 2 Dynax 9’s which are simply the best cameras Minolta made) I’ve got the Sony a700 as it is as close as I could get to the Minolta 9, without spending £2k But what now? nothing… or switch to nikon, or go back to my film 9’s.

    Electronic viewfinder (have you tried to use a polariser or grad filter with one?), plus panning is aweful, no flash sync socket and can’t be used with studio flash (have they fixed that yet?), no depth of field preview, poor build quality, and stupidly expensive batteries.

    I love the NEX 5 camera, but why would I buy one? I’d get the Panasonic G3. It’s NOT a system camera. More lenses are coming in 2012, great, you released it in 2010! Even Samsung had an affordable 55-200 lens since launch. Can I get a longer lens for the NEX? Yes, the 18-200 at £700. The 16mm is soft as hell at the corners, wheras my 20mm Minolta lens (original series) is pin sharp. The clip on flash is a joke for power as well. or buy the clunky adapter and loose autofocus and SSS. Diddn’t the Minolta 7000 launch with 14 lenses? That’s a system!

    Maybe Sony should do what Canon did with the 7D and it’s design, and ask it’s users what they want.

    marcel

  • SteveT

    Hi, I’d just very much like to say that I totally agree with all your comments about todays Sony announcments. There must be many people fed up with waiting for some updated semi pro/pro kit. It surely must come soon!
    One piece of good news today though from a different arena.
    Tesco supermarkets announced that their Clubcard Points may now be spent at Jessops. And at double their face value too. I shall now shop at Tesco in hopefull anticipation of Sony producing something I wish to buy!
    All the best. We all love your articles, Steve T

  • RE NEX Lens, I reserve judgement on the quality until I’ve seen it but it is a strange choice on Sony’s part for this to be the first lens launched after a year long lens drought. I don’t know how close the internals are compared to the alpha 30mm Macro (presumably it more than just a lick of silver paint :-), but if I were going to borrow a prime lens ‘concept’ from the easy choice range to ‘NEX’ up, I would have thought the 35mm f1.8 / 50mm f1.8 / 85mm f2.8 were all higher up the wish list than this one.

  • RE the a35, I agree with almost all your comments – the lack of articulated or even tilting screen is a real negative and smacks of cost cutting and an attempt by Sony to differentiate between this ‘entry level’ SLT and the a55/a55 successor and a77… I can see their reasoning BUT its a case of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted – doing this on the 2nd generation model comes across as cheap shot and is bound to draw negative comparisons to the fully articulated 1st gen a33.

    One point in defence of the a35 though that I don’t think you mention – other sites are claiming the new sensor bring increased battery life and reduce heating problems under video but I haven’t seen any firm figures that substantiate this.

    • admin

      Sony claim a 20% improvement in battery life but unless they have briefed the Press directly with information I don’t have, this may not be all due to the sensor. The new sensor has exactly the same form factor and pixel count as the existing one so it sounds like a modification, not an entirely new design. I’m sorry to be quite negative with this launch announcement, but I’m getting bored – almost as bored as I was in the 1990s, when I just never bothered to move on from the Minolta 9xi. That camera was about as innovative and as good as anything got. It took them almost a decade to do any better and intermediate models and ranges just seemed to chop and change features. Seems like Sony may have the seem ideas about how keep a model range fresh.