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SAR reader Amit Zinman (http://amitzinman.com/) wrote this post for SonyAlphaRumors. If you want to write an article for SAR just drop me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
The future of Sony (and other) SLR style cameras by Amit Zinman (http://amitzinman.com/):
I’ve decided to write this article, not really as anticipation to what’s coming right away from Sony. Though Sony did promise to revolutionize digital cameras in upcoming high end models, I am sure that some of what I will specify here will NOT find itself into these models. The idea was to write what I thought ought to be the future of professional stills/video cameras as I see them rather than a prediction of what will actually come from camera manufacturers who have have proven to be conservative, lacking a kind of a Steve Jobs type driven revolution. At this point it is kind of funny to me that a lot of the innovations are actually coming from low end mass market devices such as cellphones. Canon, another example for this lack of innovation, has the ever useful swivel LCD screens only in their mid level cameras while the seriously expensive high end models lack this obvious innovation. Sony, has really tried to be different from Canon and Nikon in that since, but there is much more to be done, some of it, as we already heard, will find it’s way into the new FF models.
So, what would I like to see in future models?
1. New sensor technology
we’ve heard of brave new patents for sensors. It seems that there now sensors that can see as well or even better than the human eye. There was much discussion here on the science of upcoming sensor technologies which went over my head. That said, it seems like that breakthrough technologies such as organic photo sensors are coming soon unless camera manufacturers fear making all of their current cameras obsolete. As Apple have shown with their iPhones, such revolution can really change a market is someone is brave enough to do it, regardless of costs. So, it’s quite simply, if Sony can deliver a camera with double the dynamic range of current Canon 5d mkIII, people will buy it, regardless of dependance on lenses and other accessories.
As an owner of current flagship A99 I can definitely say that it’s processing abilities are seriously weak. Take a long exposure photo and then wait a few seconds for it to process. Why? For the amount of money spent on it one should wonder. New cellphones now come with quad core CPUs, even Sony Xperia ones. You think the marketing name “BIONZ” impresses us? Not really. Maybe if you had two of those and a dedicated CPU just for apps (more about that later), now that could be impressive, especially if it would allow to take a photo while shooting video.
I own a few NP-FM500H batteries, and would hate buying new ones, but that might be unavoidable as the digital parts of the camera ask for more juice. Do moving parts take a lot of power? If you remove all of them as Sony is rumored to do with its future models, maybe you could fit in two batteries without the need to bulk up the camera with a vertical group as is done today.
4. RAW processing
I still can’t figure out why each camera model has it’s own RAW format. Is this a secret deal with software companies to make sure new versions of photo editing and processing suites are sold?
Adobe has a single format, DNG, which seem to work well. Can’t all manufacturers just switch to that format, or at least allow to option to shoot to DNG?
Other than that it is quite obvious that Sony should let you decide the RAW size of photos unlike the A99 which just provides the maximum size, falling (a few models) behind the competition.
5. The camera as a computer
Many of the photos you see today are taken by iPhones, and Samsung already has an entry level camera with the Android OS. You might say, so what? Who needs all these unnecessary apps on your pro camera? Things are far from being that simple. At this day and age being able to process a photo without the use of a bulky laptop and upload it to the Internet can be really useful and profitable. Sure, you can use your phone for that, but it does put a layer of things that could go wrong between you and the things that you need to do.
Also, the Canon hacking projects showed what a determined community can achieve with available camera technology. Sure, it would mean loosening the control that Sony has over it’s product, but it’s a great way of keeping your camera users happy. Say, I write an app that lets the camera write video files to the format used by my editing suite. Now that could turn some heads.
Sony did well with the A99 1080p/50 AVCHD 2.0 video format but surely we can move beyond that to more professional format for a professional camera, such as Adobe Cinema DNG or other less compressed formats.
The separate Modes controls for video and stills on the A99 and other models is really confusing and unnecessary. It’s a part of the growing pains for camera manufactures realizing that they are making a camera that has two role, with varying importance to different users.
USB 3 is seriously needed now that cameras write more information than ever. A proper Wi-Fi option is fast becoming a useful tool for connecting your camera to the Internet, cellphone, laptop and/or monitor.
As for 3G/4G connectivity, maybe it could be an add-on. I’m all for Sony making extra bucks on some accessories.
I’m sure that Mac users will like to have a Thunderolt/Lightning interface but I doubt any camera will ever have that port if it’s not made by Apple itself.
SD cards seem to be too slow for the requirements of future cameras. Sony itself has two pro memory card formats, SxS used by some of its video cameras and XQD, currently used only by Nikon D4 and no Sony camera at all.
Future Sony cameras might offer a XQD option, perhaps along with SD, but I have a completely different idea.
As the removal of moving parts leaves more room inside the camera you could definitely have a fast internal 256GB drive. The drive could offload in the background to a slow and cheaper SD cards thus allowing shooters to leverage their existing cards without the need to buy new and seriously more expensive cards. It might seem weird at first but I think that many people will like not having to use cards at all ever again, as you could also backup your drive to a remote laptop in the background.
9. Remote operations
Sony has already promised this to be a feature of its future models. You should be able to control your camera from your cellphone or laptop and use them as external cheap monitors. Consider having your Sony camera mounted on a helicopter and being able to control and watch what it is doing on your cellphone while riding in the back.
This can be done using advanced Wi-Fi/Bluetooth standards. It should also offer tetheing using USB 3.0 (or other connectors) connectivity that will transfer files straight from the camera to a computer for processing.
10. Flash photography
That is one of the areas that is probably most in need of an update for those who use it.
I use radio controlled flashes a lot, because I never did like the way photos look when using an on camera flash, even a fancy one. But the options for really controlling them remotely are kind of limited.
Sony should work on a new flash system, maybe one that operates on a dedicated Wi-Fi network. That way you could setup your flashes from your camera without the need for any additional hardware. You could manually control them without the need to go and do so by hand, or let some sophisticated software decide how they are setup.
I’m sure someone could also figure out a way to change the color of flashes without needing to use actual color filters.
Also, can’t anyone invent some batteries that don’t heat as much and expunge really quickly? How about NP-FM500H? I wouldn’t mind spending a little bit more on batteries that I could trust to work through the night. Actually the price for a NP-FM500H clone and professional grade AA battery packs are not that dissimilar, especially considering the times I had to buy non-rechargeable ones when the rechargeable ones failed me.
As long Sony is working in my imagination on such a new system it should also provide remote Wi-Fi controllers for its existing line of flashes.
11. Things that do not need much improvement
The optical viewfinder is not coming back, at least not for Sony cameras, which is fine by me. I like the A99 OLED viewfinder and use it for things like shooting video on bright days. Sure, it can always be improved upon, but not by much.
The rotating LCD is also great. My only wish is that it would extend a little bit more on the top, beyond the ISO hot shoe converter.