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Alpha 3000 has NEX mount, 20 megapixel, APS-C

The long-rumoured Alpha 3000 was announced earlier in August but placed under a n embargo until August 27th. At the same time, the Press was given an insight into new smartphone related products (also widely rumoured) but again, not allowed to print anything officially.

The A3000 is a DSLR-like body with an electronic 1.44MP viewfinder in a prism-style top bulge, but the body is much slimmer at the lens mount and built to the smallest Alpha form factor as the 3 series indicates (smaller than the A57). Indeed, it’s not so different from the relationship of the very first Alpha 3000 series cameras back at the end of the 1980s. The mount is a regular NEX E-mount and the camera lacks any form of Phase Detection AF, depending on Contrast Detection matched to both existing (18-55mm SEL, etc) and new E-mount lenses. The rear screen is a 230KP fixed type.

18-105-16-70

Along with this first Alpha E-mount body, Sony announced three new E-mount lenses – a 50mm f/1.8 E OSS (£249) in black, CZ Vario-Tessar T* SEL 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS (£800) and a Sony SEL Power Zoom 18-105mm f/4 G OSS (£500, and also destined to be matched to the next generation of NEX camcorders, with its friendly left hand operated PZ switch and quiet, controllable action). There may also be another power zoom, probably 16-50mm f/2.8 or a similar short wide aperture range, maybe even the 10-18mm in a power zoom housing. The reason these new lenses are made with constant apertures has nothing to do with the ‘Canon f/4 L’ obsession; it’s entirely to do with video work, to enable zooming without brightness change. The power zoom function is also there for video.

Caveat: the 18-105mm has a close focus of 45cm at 18mm, 95cm at 105mm. This indicates that the lens is not a true zoom but a varifocal. Varifocals are not of much use for zooming during a take in video, which goes against the constant aperture and power zoom features. So either the lens has an automatic compensation system which can refocus intelligently during power zoom, or a physical limiter on focus travel (unlikely – what would happen if you focused on 45cm at 18mm, then zoomed to 105mm?). The 16-70mm focuses to 35cm over its zoom range, and is actually capable of close-ups with better than double the image scale (less than a quarter of the frame enlarged) relative to the best the 18-105mm can offer, at 0.23X.

The relatively high level specification of the 16-70mm ZA does not necessarily indicate that there is a higher level of Alpha E-mount body on the way quite yet; at 20.1 megapixels (the same size sensor as the Alpha 58, with some improvements) the performance in terms of imaging may be optimal for a while. photokina 2014 should be when any professional body appears. But this is no way professional – it’s a mere £370 kit with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 E OSS, ISO range 100-16000, full HD video, A58-like viewfinder and general performance. You’ll see it in the shops before the end of September.

Sony’s agenda

Much has been made of Sony’s relationship with Olympus and the possible inclusion of OM-style 5-axis sensor stabilisation in E-mount bodies. Though the A3000 seems to have SteadyShot Inside (not confirmed by our man at the press conference, and not one of the features shown on the swingtags of the first cameras photographed by others) Carl Zeiss, traditionally wary of stabilised lens design, would not be issuing the 16-70mm with OSS unless fixed sensors were going to around in NEX and Alpha E-mount bodies for some time.

Whatever type of in-body stabilisation it has, the A3000 with SS looks like a good companion for existing un-stabilised lenses such as the Sigma 60mm, 30mm and 19mm f/2.8 designs or specialities like the Voigtlander Nokton 42.5mm f/0.95. However, I’m writing this prior to the big release of information this morning. Despite many statements that the camera does have IBIS, I see no rock-solid evidence that it does and I’m very aware that Sony staff if asked whether it has stabilisation could well say ‘yes’ on the basis of the OSS present in the kit 18-55mm lens. So, I treat this information with caution. It would not be the first time an expected feature has not materialised. Check the Sony site if you are reading soon after 5am GMT, I’ll amend this article later in the day.

Update 9am: full details are now widely on the web and there is no IBIS – here’s a complete rundown and sales page from B&H in New York on all the new products, including tech specs.

In the meantime, we know that Sony has been increasingly close to Sigma (a company which also works with Zeiss) and that some ideas may be shared between the two companies. One of the most important ideas promises to end the way your camera system choice locks you in to one company’s products. Sigma has taken the first visible step with its mount switching service. Future Sigma DSLR lenses can be returned to the workshop and their entire rear mount changed, at a cost, to another mount. So you will be able to own your 300-800mm (2014 version…) and if you switch from Canon to Nikon, the lens can switch with you. Now that many regular lenses cost £1000 or more and Sigma’s quality is so highly regarded (35mm f/1.4, MFT and E-mount lenses, DP series) it will make sense to keep the glass for longer. The new USB-interfaced lens calibration kit will also enable such lenses to be user tuned to work with their new host bodies.

The second idea is the switch to E-mount for more products by Sony. There is already a full frame E-mount Sony, the NEX VG-900E, and it’s actually a 24 megapixel still camera shooting raw, as well as a high-end full frame camcorder. It just gets very little attention because it does not look like an SLR or a NEX. This camera has adaptors for other systems of full-frame DSLR lens, as well as a specialised full-frame version of the Alpha mount plain adaptor (LA-EA3 without APS-C internal baffles found in the LA-EA1). However, third party makers have not yet gone the distance. Prime lenses from Samyang and Carl Zeiss are the main E-mount full frame offerings, made for video.

With the Alpha 3000 we see the introduction of an idea I sketched out for film cameras in the 1970s based on discovering the Contarex with its interchangeable 35mm backs. My concept was a camera body with a shutter unit, and a mechanical linkage for slot-in modules including a rangefinder mount, an SLR mirror-box with prism, and a pro mirror-box with interchangeable finders, plus several further front components to switch between Pentax, Minolta, Nikon, Canon and other lenses. Alpa came close to managing this with their very slim bodies and mount adaptors, plus a combination of optical direct finder and prism.

Sony’s future, like Sigma’s, lies in crossing all boundaries. The eventual full-frame, E-mount DSLR-style camera may well have the rumoured 36-50 megapixel sensor, 4K electronic viewfinder, and five-axis sensor stabilisation. It will also have an Alpha lens adaptor and firmware lens recognition good enough to let SSM and SAM in-lens focus motor lenses function adequately with on-sensor focusing. But what it will also have, for certain, is a range of adaptors for other mounts including Canon EF and Nikon G with translated control of AF and aperture (exactly what Sigma has now built in to the front ends of its ‘switchable mount’ new lens series). These will likely be third party products, but Sony has already shown (in 2010, at photokina and other shows) that it has no difficulty welcoming makers such as Metabones and Novoflex on board as co-operative vendors.

What’s more, in theory there will room to build a phase-detect mirror system (SLT) into some adaptors and even to add a focus drive motor. With the right chipset to translate the protocols from body to lenses, or to mechanical functions in the adaptor, almost any lens ever made for any SLR or rangefinder from the last century of miniature camera development will find a home on Alpha E-mount bodies.

Then you will have the ‘DSLR-CSC’ hybrid to end all – the body which can be sold with a Nikon mount, or a Canon mount, or an A-mount – or use its highly optimised future full-frame E-mount optics. To some degree the NEX has already done this but the real impact of the 18mm thick body, compatible with full frame lenses, has yet to be seen.

Caveat – if a full frame model does use sensor stabilisation, mechanical obstructions could mean that a crop factor of somewhere around 1.2X was needed. Sony already has pixel-shifting electronic stabilisation for video, not stills, and this also needs a crop factor to work. It would be easy to imagine the full-frame NEX accepting this limitation, and providing electronic stabilisation on-sensor only, removing moving parts and improving precision/calibration.

The NEX-5T

Sony-NEX5T-flipup

The NEX-5T has the same forward flippable rear screen mechanism as the 5R, one of the advanced over the earlier 5 and 5N designs.

The NEX-5T is the successor to the NEX-5R (5n, 5 etc), available as a black or white body. The 16.1 MP APS-C CMOS sensor NEX-5T will sell for around £600 and adds Near Field Connectivity technology to WiFi. Fifteen of Sony’s PlayMemories ‘apps’ are now available. Features include Hybrid AF (CD-PD on sensor), 180° tilting LCD, and maximum sensitivity of ISO 25600.

See: www.sony.co.uk

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