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Reader Comment: Sony’s Powerhouse Strategy

Well worth a read.

Roy P writes:

My pontification for a lazy Saturday afternoon…

I have been buying (and upgrading / selling) cameras since 1980, when I managed to save enough money from my summer job in New Hampshire and buy my first serious camera, a Canon AT-1 SLR. Since then, I have always regarded cameras, like computers, to be more as extended rental items than as things to own. So my modus operandi has been to buy a camera if it gave me what I wanted, use it all I can, and have no qualms about replacing it when it got substantially obsoleted by a new generation.

An open road for Sony

In nearly 40 years of following cameras, and having at one time or another owned several cameras made by pretty much all the leading camera makers, I have never seen a camera manufacturer (Sony) that had three or more generations of a camera all in production at the same time! I mean real generations, not the Mickey Mouse model numbers Nikon and Canon have been fond of churning out to push through Costco or whatever.

What Sony is doing is quite extraordinary, and AFAIK, very unique. When I first saw this telemarketing email below from Sony arrive a couple of hours ago, I thought this must have been a mistake, likely the result of some software glitch in the Sony marketing machinery. Why would I be getting a marketing email pitching the A7R II here in August 2019? Surely, some fat finger error on the part of some junior marcom person at Sony, right?

Well, this turns out to be a serious, current marketing campaign. The A7R II is a fully contemporary camera, being now sold at $1800. Even as the A7R III is being obsoleted by the new A7R IV. That is three generations of the A7R, all except the original A7R with its thunderclap shutter, that are still in production and being actively marketed!

In addition, there is a parallel universe of the A7 III ($2000), A7 II ($1600) and A7 ($1000), all in production!

And the Ginsu commercial continues, there’s more! The A7S II for $2400 and the A7S for $2000. Only two models in the A7S line, because they haven’t come out with the A7S III yet.


I can’t recall Nikon, for instance, selling the D100, D200 and D300 or the D700, D800 and D810 or the D800, D810 and D850, or the D3, D4 and D5 all at the same time. Nor Canon the 5D MK2, 3 and 4, etc.

This is really brilliant on the part of Sony – it’s obvious that Sony can quickly get so far up the yield curve on its sensors and the manufacturing learning curve on the cameras that they can crank these out for hugely reduced prices, give the dealers a 25-30% mark up, and still make a profit.

More importantly, this creates a performance/price pincer formation around the competition that makes it very hard to respond to. There’s the top of the line Sony A7R IV for $3500 (which itself is cheap!), the Sony A7R III for $2500, and now, the Sony A7R II for only $1800, at the high end of 35mm. There are also the Sony A7S III and Sony A9 II “around the corner”.

What’s the game plan now for Canon, Nikon and Panasonic, not to mention Pentax if someone still has a pulse over there?

Even more amazing than three generations of cameras is that Sony now has SEVEN generations of the Sony RX100, all in production and available today: RX100 original, II, III, IV, VA, VI and VII. My guess is, once they come out with the VII, they will EOL the VI, as they did the V after the VA. That’s still six generations, all humming air borne at the same time! I’ve never seen anything like that!

At the same time, Sony also owns medium format, supplying sensors to Hasselblad, Fujifilm and Phase One at the high end, and supplies sensors to Apple.

The only trick Sony has missed so far is the multi-shot high res mode in the Panasonic S1R/S1. Sony likely got blind sighted by this feature which almost certainly requires custom silicon. So this will have to wait for the Sony A7R V, maybe two years from now.

In the meantime, Nikon and Canon have to hope their DSLR-to-mirrorless lens adapters will let them hang on to their user base, as they scramble to transition to mirrorless and hope their customers will follow. This is what it has come down to – a lens adapter + hope and prayer is now the pivot for a couple of multi-billion dollar businesses!

It’s interesting that in spite of the L-mount alliance, Sigma continues to crank out lenses for the E mount. There’s a message there, I think!

I don’t see anyone slowing down the Sony juggernaut.

DIGLLOYD: outstanding insights that I have not seen anywhere else!

I want a Sony medium format camera with focus stacking support.

Sony has won not just in mirrorless but in the camera market. The rout is not yet evident to the mainstream press, but give them another year or two for it to sink in and actually dare to say it. Fujifilm is the only serious contender now, with the Fujifilm X system and the Fujifilm GFX medium format. But those seems to be sideshows.

CLICK TO VIEW: Generations of Sony Cameras

CLICK TO VIEW: Sony A7R IV + Highly Recommended Lenses

Roy P continues:

Steve Jobs was right – if you are afraid of cannibalizing your own products with new technologies, somebody else will.

Nikon and Canon have been giving lip service to mirrorless for years with severely limited cameras (e.g., Nikon 1) that provided some basic features, but principally for window dressing in response to pesky questions from the Japanese media.

But they kept the capabilities of these cameras tightly limited so they would never become threats to their bread and butter cameras and lenses. In the end, they neither succeeded with these cameras nor managed to save their DSLRs.

OTOH, Sony is absolutely fearless – the A9-class AF technology is now pushed into the RX100 VII, and there will likely be an RX10 V soon with the same AF, also. That is a camera with a 24-600mm equivalent lens. So clearly, Sony is not worried about the RX10 affecting sales of either its A9 + 200-600 lens or A9 + 600 f/4 lens. They have the sense to realize the markets are segmented, and the A9 + 200-600 market is different from the RX10 V market.

In my case, I will end up buying both, but my point is, for the most part, the sale of one of these does not happen at the expense of the other. That is something I don’t think Nikon and Canon ever understood. This has been a fascinating case study in not only photography but also in marketing.

Now, if Sony can also overhaul the firmware in their cameras!


Sony A7R IV

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