Sony redefines its Alpha lines

New technologies and designs highlight Sony's advanced cameras and accessories for fall 2011.

Sony's NEX-7, its first compact ILC designed for advanced photographers. Sony Electronics

We joke about the worst-kept product secrets on the Web, but Sony's late-summer camera and camcorder announcements have to be some sort of record. Finally made public today, specs and photos of its higher-end updates to the Alpha line have been floating around for a while--the semi-pro SLT-A77V was even prematurely nominated for an award. So while chances are you're already familiar with the new models--the SLT-A77V, SLT-A65V, NEX-7, NEX-5N, and NEX-VG20 camcorder--read on for my take and more details.

To be fair, there really is a boatload of interesting, potentially game-changing, stuff here, with lenses and accessories in addition to the cameras.

Sony's articulated display features some innovative hinging that allows it to tilt and swivel in a new way. Sony Electronics

Starting at the top, the SLT-A77V is the long-awaited successor to the DSLR-A700, though the former uses Sony's fixed translucent-mirror technology and the latter is a conventional dSLR. The A77V incorporates Sony's newest sensor, a 24-megapixel version of its Exmor HD series, along with a new 19-point autofocus system, OLED electronic viewfinder, and 1080/60p video recording in a weather-sealed magnesium alloy body. Priced at $1,400 for the body only or $2,000 with the new 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Zeiss lens, the A77V comes in a at an odd price relative to potential competitors from Canon, Nikon, and Panasonic. Sony will offer a new vertical grip for it, the VG-C77AM (October, $299.99).

Into the unenviable slot that competes directly against the Canon EOS Rebel T3i, Nikon D5100, and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2, Sony launches the SLT-A65V. The A65V sits in the SLT product line between the older A55V and the A77V, and incorporates aspects of both: the newer 24-megapixel sensor, EVF, drive mode, and video codec from the higher-end model with the older 15-point AF system, and similar body design from the A55V. Both of the new models have built-in GPS for geotagging as well.

The two SLT models have very aggressive continuous-shooting specs for their respective classes, and as long as Sony doesn't run into heat problems with video shooting on the new sensor, they sound quite nice (although, as far as I understand, there's no official way to crop into a 1080 window on the sensor while shooting video). But I'm not thrilled about the jump to 24 megapixels, though I'm sure we'll see a Nikon using some variant of that sensor next year.

Related link
• More on the SLT-A65V and SLT-A77V

Here's the updated SLT lineup:

  Sony Alpha SLT-A35 Sony Alpha SLT-A55V Sony Alpha SLT-A65V Sony Alpha SLT-A77V
Sensor (effective resolution) 16.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS 16.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS 24.3-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS 24.3-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS
23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 12,800 ISO 100 - ISO 1600/ 12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 16,000 ISO 50 (expanded)/ 100 - ISO 16,000
Continuous shooting 5.5fps
18 JPEG/6 raw
6fps
(10fps with fixed exposure)
20 raw/35 JPEG
8fps (10fps with fixed exposure)
13 raw/17 JPEG
8fps (12fps with fixed exposure)
13 raw/14 JPEG
Viewfinder
magnification/ effective magnification
Electronic
0.46 inches/1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.1x/0.73x
Electronic
0.46 inches/1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.1x/0.73x
Electronic OLED
0.5 inches/2.36 million dots
100% coverage
1.09x/0.73x
Electronic OLED
0.5 inches/2.36 million dots
100% coverage
1.09x/0.73x
Autofocus 15-pt phase-detection
3 cross-type
15-pt phase-detection
3 cross-type
15-pt phase-detection
3 cross-type
19-pt phase-detection
11 cross-type
Shutter speed 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 x-sync
Metering 1,200 zone 1,200 zone 1,200 zone 1,200 zone
Image stabilization Sensor shift Sensor shift Sensor shift Sensor shift
Video AVCHD 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080 /30p @ 12Mbps AVCHD 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080 /30p @ 12Mbps AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/30p @ 12Mbps AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/30p @ 12Mbps
Manual aperture and shutter in video No No Yes Yes
Audio Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input
LCD size 3 inches fixed
921,600 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
Wireless flash Yes Yes Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 420 shots 330 shots 510 shots 470 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 4.9 x 3.6 x 3.3 4.9 x 3.6 x 3.3 5.3 x 3.9 x 3.3 5.8 x 4.1 x 3.3
Body operating weight (ounces) 16.1 17.8 22 (est) 26 (est)
Mfr. price n/a $749.99 (body only) $899.99 (body only) $1399.99 (body only)
$699.99 (with 18-55mm lens) $849.99 (with 18-55mm lens) $999.99 (with 18-55mm lens) $1999.99 (with 16-50mm lens)
n/a n/a n/a n/a
Ship date August 2011 September 2010 October 2011 October 2011
The Sony Alpha NEX-5N introduces a connector for an add-on EVF. Sony Electronics

While there's been lots of buzz about the new models, I think the Alpha NEX-7 has been one of the most eagerly anticipated cameras of the year, thanks to its compact body but advanced design and feature set. It's got a lot of the same components as the A77V--sensor and image processor, viewfinder, hot shoe--but with better button and dial direct-access than in previous NEX models. And unlike the earlier, lower-end models, the NEX-7 has a built-in EVF and flash. At $1,200, though, this isn't your mainstream ILC; it really seems to be taking on the Fujifilm X100 instead.

The most mainstream model of the group, the NEX-5N replaces the NEX-5 in the spot between the recently released NEX-C3 and NEX-7. It's essentially a higher-resolution version of the NEX-5 with some updates that address issues with its predecessor--it has a connector for an optional EVF and updated movie capture to support AVCHD 2.0 frame and bit rates.

Related link
• Read more about the NEX-7 and NEX-5N

Just as interesting are a couple of new NEX accessories. A new adapter, the LA-EA2 ($399.99) , not only lets you use A-mount lenses on the E-mount NEX line, but it incorporates Sony's translucent mirror technology and 15-point phase-detection autofocus system and motor. That means you get autofocus with A-mount lenses. And it's compatible with older NEX models, as long as you update the firmware. The new FDA-EV1S ($349.99) add-on viewfinder only works with the NEX-5N, but it's a tilting 2.4-million-dot OLED display.

Here's the new NEX lineup:

  Sony Alpha NEX-C3 Sony Alpha NEX-5 Sony Alpha NEX-5N Sony Alpha NEX-7
Sensor (effective resolution) 16.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS 14.2-megapixel Exmor CMOS 16.1-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS 24.3-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS
23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.4mm x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 200 - ISO 12,800 ISO 200 - ISO 12,800 ISO 100 - ISO 25,600 ISO 100 - ISO 16,000
Continuous shooting 2.5fps
18 JPEG/6 raw
(5.5fps with fixed exposure)
2.3fps
unlimited JPEG/8 raw
(7fps with fixed exposure)
3fps
unlimited 10 JPEG/6 raw
(10fps with fixed exposure)
3fps
unlimited 10 JPEG/6 raw
(10fps with fixed exposure)
Viewfinder
magnification/ effective magnification
None None Optional 0.5-inch
2.4 million dots
100 % coverage
1.09x/.73x
Autofocus 25-point contrast AF 25-point contrast AF 25-area contrast AF 25-area contrast AF
Shutter speed 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec x- sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec x-sync
Metering 49 zone 40 segment 1,200 zone 1,200 zone
Flash Included optional Included optional Included optional Yes
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical Optical
Video 720/30p H.264 MPEG-4 1080/60i AVCHD AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/30p @ 12Mbps AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/30p @ 12Mbps
Audio Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input
LCD size 3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
Battery life (CIPA rating) 400 shots 330 shots 430 shots 350 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 4.4 x 2.4 x 0.9 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6 4.8 x 2.8 x 1.7
Body operating weight (ounces) 10.7 10.2 (without flash); 10.9 (with flash) 9 (est) 12 (est)
Mfr. price n/a n/a $599.99 (body only) $1,199.99 (body only)
$649.99 (with 18-55mm lens) $699.99 (with 18-55mm lens) $699.99 (with 18-55mm lens) $1,349.00 (with 18-55mm lens)
$599.99 (with 16mm f2.8 lens) $649.99 (with 16mm f2.8 lens) n/a n/a
Ship date August 2011 July 2010 September 2011 November 2011
Sony Alpha NEX-VG20 Sony Electronics

Sony also took the opportunity to roll out the replacement for the NEX-VG10 E-mount camcorder, essentially updating it to address a lot of complaints about the first-generation model. In the VG20 it's been bumped up to the 16-megapixel Exmor HD sensor, supports 60p and 24p recording, and offers raw format for still photo capture. Though the body design remains essentially the same, operation is now less LCD-driven and there are controls near the handle so you can finally...shoot while you're using the handle. The built-in mic now supports 5.1-channel capture, and you can now record directly to hard disc. A body-only version will be available for $1,599.99; the kit with the 18-200mm lens is now designated VG20H and runs $2,199.99. It's slated to ship in November.

Finally, a few new lenses join the team. Playing on the A-mount, the DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM ($699.99) looks like a nice midrange option to complement the A77; it's also dust and weather sealed. For the E mount, there's a new inexpensive (but narrow aperture) 55-210mm f4.5-6.3 OSS ($349.99) that fills a hole in the mainstream lineup, along with a mainstream $299.99 50mm f1.8 portrait lens (with optical stabilization, which is nice) and a Zeiss T* 24mm f1.8--pricier at $999.99. The telephoto zoom will ship in October; the other two in December.

 

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